Despite Houston's large African immigrant population, it isn't exactly our go-to locale when it comes to thinking about a large, international conversation on Afropolitans. But this weekend, as Houston Museum of African American Culture CEO John Guess enthusiastically puts it, "We are at the center of the world," in terms of that conversation.
This Friday and Saturday, HMAAC will host an international symposium on the rise of Afropolitanism, a cultural movement made up of young artists who were born in Africa in or after the 1970s but later moved to Europe or the United States (mostly). The symposium, "Africans in America - The New Beat of Afropolitans," will feature appearances by leaders in the movement, including writer Taiye Selasi, who coined the term, musician Derrick Ashong and artist Wangechi Mutu. The lineup was impressive enough to coax the Africa Channel, the Philadelphia-based cable network dedicated to programming from that vast continent, to broadcast an edited version of the symposium in a few weeks.
So what exactly is Afropolitanism? Though it appears to be an elusive cultural trend, it's really quite simple, says HMAAC Program Director Solkem N'Gangbet: "If someone takes ten minutes to explain where they're from, they're an Afropolitan."
On another level, Afropolitanism is a cultural wave that seeks to rejuvenate Western, largely negative perceptions of the continent that are focused on civil war and famine. "We're not saying these things don't exist, they certainly do exist," says N'Gangbet. "But it is more complicated than that. And I think it's important for people to understand that it is a sophisticated place."
For Guess, the symposium also gives African Americans the chance to reevaluate their own image in American life. "When we talk about African Americans, we talk about one profile," he says. "And African immigrants are usually not involved in that conversation."
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"Africans in America - The New Beat of Afropolitans" will take place at HMAAC, 4807 Caroline St. Friday and Saturday. Events are free and open to the public. Check out the schedule here or call 713-526-1015 for information.