Jamea Richmond-Edwards‘s exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami has an oxymoron for a title: “Ancient Futures.” It’s an intentionally contradictory title. Drawing on the tenets of Afrofuturism, which aims to connect the ancestry of the African diaspora with a science-fictional future, Richmond-Edwards is trying to summon new universes by looking to the past.

“The unique challenge was thinking as big as I possibly can,” she said in an interview with ARTnews. “My work is escapism from this world we currently live in. I use this history to give me the agency to reimagine the future.”

Related Articles

A crowd assembled beneath projections in shades of green and red.

Art Basel Isn’t Even Open Yet, But Artists and Dealers Are Already Partying Hard

Schoelkopf Gallery Announces Exclusive Representation of the Thomas Hart Benton Trust

For the show, the Detroit-born artist has created her biggest work to date: a more-than-30-foot-long canvas titled Dark Night of the Soul (2023), an allegory in which the artist is portrayed as creator at one with the universe.The artist shows herself rising from the center of the large piece. A long dragon wraps around her portrait at the left all the way to her son’s likeness at the right. Emerging from this colorfully intertwined motif, Black figures apppear along a rock.

Richmond-Edwards created the work in Detroit.She relocated to the city from the Baltimore area two years ago, at the pandemic’s peak. Since then, Richmond-Edwards has been researching Black history in Detroit, exploring the riots in the 1940s and ’60s and displacement of residents inBlack neighborhoods like Black Bottom. She called her experience a “remembering.”

The works in the show recall the cyclical nature of history—not just that of Detroit, but that of Africa as well, delving into ancient Egyptian lore and the mythology of Drexicya, a subject that has recently been taken up by a range of contemporary artists.

The Drexciya legend was created by a Detroit-based group that made a series of albums about the myth of Atlantian people, specifically considering “what would have happened to the enslaved women who were going across the transatlantic route from West Africa to what would be the United States,” as MOCA North Miami curator Adeze Wilford said. According to Wilford, these albums speculate on real tragedies that occurred as a result of the slave trade: “What would happen to the pregnant women who were thrown overboard? Would those children evolve to be able to live underwater?”

Following this premise, the artist picks up on the music groups’ imagined future, wherein these children grow up to be warriors and rulers in an underwater land known as Drexciya.

Jamea Richmond-Edwards: Ancient Future, 2023, digital film, color, sound, seven minutes.
Jamea Richmond-Edwards: Ancient Future, 2023, digital film, color, sound, seven minutes.
Courtesy the artist and Kravets Wehby Gallery. PhotoZachary Balber

These sprawling, vibrant canvases, some replete with frames fashioned to resemble dragons, offer a glimpse of myth-based possibilities from Detroit’s architectural landscape. These images are intentionally different from ones that might be seen in history books.

“We tend to focus on the trauma versus the beautiful elements of it,” Richmond-Edwards said. “And it has been important, for the sake of my sanity, to not just focus on the traumas and horrors. While we have these grotesque scenes happening, we still have beautiful things happening at the same time. The world can fool you into thinking that you’re always the victim. I paint myself as the heroine of my own stories, which is a stark juxtaposition of the history I was taught in school.”

The works are as much a historical reclamation as a personal one. “It was really challenging to even envision myself as the savior of me, but it is extremely liberating,” Richmond-Edwards added.

At the center of the exhibition is the work that lends the show its name, a film called Ancient Future (2023), which is projected onto a gold pyramidal structure. The film riffs on the flamboyant celebration of HBCU marching band culture and techno music with dancers situated amid what appears to be outer space.

Richmond-Edwards played in a marching band while studying at the historically Black school Jackson State University—a tradition that her son carries on as a jazz musician. For the film, Richmond-Edwards worked with her son, who scored the film, and a choreographer to create an intergenerational conversation. The teen dancers, for example, are meant to evoke the spirit of a dragon dancing in the cosmos.

With this film, Richmond-Edwards manifests reveries she believes prior family members may have had, a sentiment echoed in a line that is heard being read aloud in the piece by the composer Sun Ra: “I’m your ancestor’s dream manifested.”