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?UESTIONS: Kytana Winn

Updated: Jun 17, 2022

Kytana Winn's work is a fusion of tribal, science fiction and the great unknown.

Kytana embodies the new surreal. Her work is beautifully layered and sincere, it can be compared to ancient tribes and their connection to the universe. Her magnificent art bridges the gap between nature, modern society and the future.

Can you explain the concept of Afrofuturism and your approach within your work?

The term Afrofuturism was first coined by scholar Mark Dery in his 1993 essay, “Black to the Future,” as “speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th-century technoculture and, more generally, African-American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future might, for want of a better term, be called Afrofuturism.

[However], the notion of Afrofuturism gives rise to a troubling antinomy: Can a community whose past has been deliberately rubbed out, and whose energies have subsequently been consumed by the search for legible traces of its history, imagine possible futures?”(Dery, 180)

I believe after this terms conception with skepticism, the umbrella that is Afrofuturism has risen to answer Drey’s question with a resounding yes and creating the core idea that Afrofuturism reimagines and then subsequently informs futures of what our diaspora is capable of achieving and creating philosophically culturally, spiritually and technologically outside of Eurocentric/Western constructs and ideals of Blackness. 

Recently I watched a talk by scholar and professor Lonny J Avi Brooks, hosted at Creative Museum HQ  in Oakland, and he notably stated that,

“The Black experience is futuristic. On some level, it was always a science fiction horror story and another level a story about alien abduction, and because of this Black people have always been futurists. They had to be. Imagine being taken from your home planet in  West Africa with the latest in bondage technologies, kidnapping them and dislocating them from their home planet, taking them to an alien new world where they had to innovate and not be allowed to speak their own languages, celebrate their rituals, or even play their music. They had to adapt to a new religion and fuse it with their own rituals under the radar. Cruelty has shaped the Black Diaspora and part of Afrofuturism is reinventing and reclaiming the trauma past atrocities against the queer and Black Diaspora  and augmenting new pathways, new alternative memories of the future.”

This really struck me in a profound way because I had never really associated Afrofuturism being practiced so far in the past but find that these themes of augmenting, reshaping, and surpassing slavery trauma to be jumping off points in this artistic movement to later then subvert Eurocentric ideals altogether.

Afrofuturism also lends a powerful hand into Black Feminism, which is the section I'm creating and exploring in. I'm continuously contemplating and rotating the multifaceted idea of The Divine Feminine in Space, after reading Yatasha Womack's Afrofuturism: The world of Black sci-fi and fantasy culture. In chapter 8, The Divine Feminine in Space,  Ytasha Womack describes this term best with the assertion that:

“Afrofuturism is a home for the Divine Feminine by principle, a Mother Earth ideal that values nature, creativity, receptivity, mysticism, intuition, and healing as partners to technology, science, and achievement. The divine feminine is the other side to the information-gathering process, and tapping into it is a process of choice for many Afrofuturist. There's a widespread belief that humankind has lost connection to nature, to the stars, to a cosmic sense of self, and that reclaiming the virtues of the divine feminine will lead to wholeness. Many men in the genre embrace the principle as much as women do (Womack,103)

So within my work, I try to approach this idea with internal musings like, What would a divine feminine in space look like? What does the reconstruction of the black female body rooted in cybernetic evolution inspire? What kind of life-changing adventures can the Black female have in space? From there I use my imagination, and experience in my specific diaspora as an African-American female to create answers in the form of, hopefully, beautifully lush and complex collages.

What is your driving force?  

Representation. Representation. Representation. 

To better understand the significance Afrofuturism has on the Black female body, we have to be aware of the history of how the Black female body has been perceived in the art that was predominantly created and viewed by Eurocentric individuals. In Afrofuturism, the black woman’s image is not held to western standards and stereotypes. Nor is our body held to the confines in what it means to portray ‘’acceptable’’ Blackness. However, outside of Afrofuturism, these ideals are not so easily applicable. There is without a doubt still racist and negative stereotypical connotations being applied to the Black female body, that includes but not limited to promiscuity, eroticism, and savagery. Historically the root of these negative stereotypes can be connected to the effects of the Pan-African Diaspora during the colonization era between the 1800 and 1900s.

A common and widely referenced example of the core source of the degradation of the Black female body in particular can be seen in the icon case of Saartjie or Sara Baartman.  Baartman was exhibited as a freak show attraction in 19th-century Europe under the name Hottentot Venus because of her ‘abnormal’ sized buttocks, breast and genitalia. She was poked and prodded and became an icon or reference for salacious thought and acts with black females. After her death in 1815, she was put under autopsy and claimed to be of the lowest specimen to that of an ape and or orangutan. Baartman became associated with not being a woman but a primitive and reduced sex-object.

Another iconic reference of the Black female body being associated with sexuality and derision is Manet's voyeuristic 1863 painting Olympia. By the nineteenth century, the black female body in art became used as a signifier/motif of sexuality and promiscuity. In the painting, the nude caucasian prostitute lounged in a day bed with her hand strategically laid across her genitalia and staring directly at the viewer. In the background, a black maid or servant is presenting the nude prostitute with a bouquet of flowers. So even though the black maid or servant is completely clothed, the level of voyeurism the painting lends to the male gaze automatically puts the Black female form in associates of sexual objectification.

There are many more examples to pull from but what it boils down to is that the Black female form has been unfairly balanced on the extreme end of the scale of sexuality and that we are still seeing this unbalance today, intersectionally woven into modern visual culture. This drives me to create the collages I do. My intent is to create alternate realities where the black female form, nude or clothed, can be a signifier of exploration, knowledge, peace, wisdom, expansion, ingenuity, and innovation. 

Also, to be very clear,  I'm not saying that Black females cannot have and express sexuality. To do that would then tip this metaphorical scale on the other extreme end that is repression, which is unfair and counterproductive. What I'm saying is that there needs to be a recalibration of said imbalance and adding more representation of what the Black female form can imply in other arenas like Afrofuturism is a healthy start. 

Your Art is striking, how do you use colour?

Honesty I’m awful with color theory! I rely on my best friend who is a painter to help me out in this area during our critiques. Before collaging, my main artistic practice was in Black and White Portraiture Photography. So naturally, my eye is more attuned to seeing gradients and contrast. Therefore, when I’m collaging I’m more looking at how the gradients of color can compositionally create depth and movement. Also, because I am 95% of the time at the mercy of found images, I don’t start with a color palette or mood. Instead, I gather core images that I want to use and determine from their colors what the overall gradient should stay in. 

In terms of feeling, I’m personally obsessed with the colorfully rendered Hubble Telescope images of space and how they always seem to pull me into an overwhelming sense of wonderment, fascination, mesmerization, and mysticism. So intrinsically I think I try to create those same feelings in each of my pieces. If I look at a completed piece and feel none of the said feelings then I know I’m missing something or need to rework the piece altogether. 

How would you describe the Black females in your work? 

I would describe them as beings engaged in action, autonomy, and agency. Even if their faces are obscured behind a mask, only have a head and nobody or seen as shadowy figures, they are actively occupying their space with full force and weight. They have power, knowledge, and wisdom to share if only you as the viewer are willing to face them and listen. They are Divine Feminines in Space.

Each piece of your Art includes a written narrative, how important is this to your practice?  

The narrative texts added are my musings actuated into a stream of open-ended thoughts. This process usually starts when I’m beginning to combine core images together and as they start to fit together they then inform me what to add next in terms of imagery motifs, adornments, figurative actions/placement, etc. etc. By the end, I have a collage that is surreal in nature and can be intimidatingly visually packed. I know what I'm looking at because I'm the creator but for a viewer, the first look over can be overwhelming. So much so that I use these open-ended narratives as a jumping-off point to create a semblance of direction in digesting the piece. If this helps the viewer then great, and if the viewer says “ no, I think this is what happening...” then to that I say “ even better”! I love to hear new interpretations of my work that I may not have considered. 

Plus, adding narrative text is another way for me to tap into combinatory play. I make collages, photograph portraits, build ceramic coil pots, construct furniture for my room and write short fictional text. I am a creative and love to create in every aspect of my life.

What does the future hold for the Black Woman? 

That's a big question that keeps circulating in my mind.  I don't have a third eye, so I can't give a true clairvoyant answer but I wholeheartedly believe that the Black Woman has been and is on the voyage to transcendence. Just look at recent instances like  Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer visual treatise, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as superhero powered Ruth in Fast Color, and N.K Jemisin’s Broken Earth science fantasy novel trilogy. These are all Black women real and fictional coming into their own magic and science. Younger and younger, quicker and quicker, we are realizing our inherent potential and soon others will agree without derision.

Below are artists that I take inspiration from and have been making work that directly leans into ideas of Afrofuturism. So please readers, take a look at their work and support them any way you can. 

  • Joshua Mays

  • Wangechi Mutu

  • Cyrus Kabiru

  • Osborne Macharia

  • AiRich

  • Manzel Bowman

  • Taj Francis

  • Komi Olaf

  • Tyra White Meadows

  • SReal

  • Lina Iris Viktor

  • Kaylan Michael

  • Tahir Carl Karmali

All images by and courtesy of Kytana Winn


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