The Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC) has big things in store: Its new home, situated — meaningfully — between Houston's Museum District and the Third Ward, is now open for special events; a series of exhibitions, programs, film screenings and panel discussions are in line for the fall season; and it's holding an internationally-recognized symposium this Friday and Saturday.
The symposium, entitled ‘Africans in America: The New Beat of Afropolitans,’ will feature a varied and talented panel. Wangechi Mutu (artist), Derrick Ashong (actor/musician/social entrepreneur), Taiye Selasi (author), Teju Cole (writer), Odera Ozoka (filmmaker), Meme Omogbai (arts maven) and Nemata Blyden (professor) will participate in what has the potential to be a pivotal historical conversation.
Through lectures, film screenings and roundtable discussions, speakers will address the Afropolitan (a term coined by Taiye Selasi) cultural movement and present a larger picture of what it means to be an African.
“These talents sometimes stand separate, sometimes side by side, and more than occasionally are fused together through an exciting mix of fashion, style and identity that is helping to redefine blackness in America," HMAAC CEO John Guess, Jr. in a statement.
"Western media tend to portray Africa as a monolithic continent ridden with plagues and scourges . . . or to present Africa as a land forgotten by time," HMAAC program director Solkem N'Gangbet tells CultureMap.
"Because we, Africans, are constantly defined by foreigners, the result is too often a one-dimensional picture. One of the concerns of the symposium, therefore, is to balance the picture. We are not saying that there are no problems in Africa; we are saying Africa is also thriving, both on the continent . . . and in its diaspora. We want to show the whole picture. We want to show how Africa’s cultural heritage is currently intertwined with modern trends and cosmopolitan influences, and how the result is brought to the world by Africans."
HMAAC's directors see this symposium as the start of a larger dialog about the changes that African immigrants and the Afropolitan movement will impress upon American culture and the world as a whole, and they see Houston as an important location for the event.
"The last black cultural movement to have worldwide impact was hip hop," N'Gangbet says. "Afropolitan culture represents the next wave."
The event will be held at the Houston Museum of African American Culture's new building, located at 4807 Caroline Street. It is free and open to the public, and it includes a film screening of Ozoka's Soul Diaspora (rated R). The community is invited to attend all or part of the sessions.