From Afrofuturism to Afro-Surrealism: Exploring African Art Movements

Get ready to dive into the vibrant and dynamic world of African art movements! African art movements have been a vibrant and dynamic force in the world of art for centuries. From the traditional masks and sculptures of ancient African cultures to the contemporary works of today, African artists have continually pushed boundaries and challenged expectations.

In recent years, two movements have garnered increasing attention and critical acclaim: Afrofuturism and Afro-Surrealism. These two movements offer fresh and innovative perspectives on African culture, history, and identity, imagining new possibilities and subverting old stereotypes.

In this article, we will explore the origins, techniques, and impact of Afrofuturism and Afro-Surrealism, and examine the ways in which these movements are reshaping the art world and challenging our assumptions about what it means to be African. Let’s dive in!


Afrofuturism is an artistic and cultural movement that emerged in the late 20th century, blending elements of science fiction, fantasy, and Afrocentricity. It is rooted in the idea of imagining a future that includes and celebrates African cultures, traditions, and identities. The term “Afrofuturism” was coined in the 1990s by cultural critic Mark Dery, but the movement itself has roots in the work of writers, musicians, and artists of the 1960s and 70s Black Arts Movement, such as Sun Ra and Octavia Butler.


Notable Afrofuturist artists include:

  • Jean-Michel Basquiat: His paintings often featured African masks and symbols, reimagined in a contemporary urban context.
  • Janelle Monáe: Her music videos and albums, such as “Dirty Computer,” are infused with sci-fi and futuristic themes, while also exploring issues of race and identity.
  • Nnedi Okorafor: Her novels, such as “Binti” and “Who Fears Death,” blend African mythology and science fiction to create unique and imaginative worlds.

Afrofuturism reimagines African culture and history in a futuristic context, imagining a world where technology and African traditions coexist in new and innovative ways. It challenges the narrow, stereotypical depictions of Africa in mainstream media and offers a vision of a future that includes and celebrates African cultures and identities.


Afro-Surrealism is a contemporary art movement that draws inspiration from Surrealism, a 20th-century movement that emphasized the subconscious and irrational aspects of the human psyche. However, Afro-Surrealism incorporates and highlights African mythology, history, and culture, and explores themes such as identity, spirituality, and liberation.

It combines African mythology and culture with the irrational and surreal, creating dreamlike worlds that challenge traditional Western narratives and expectations. Notable Afro-Surrealist artists include:

  • Toyin Ojih Odutola: Her pen and ink drawings often depict surreal landscapes and figures, drawing on African mythology and culture.
  • Wangechi Mutu: Her collages and mixed media works explore themes of gender, race, and power, often featuring hybrid figures that blend human and animal characteristics.
  • Kehinde Wiley: His paintings feature African American subjects in grand, classical poses, often juxtaposed with contemporary elements or symbols of African heritage.
Lonely Chambers – by Toyin Ojih Odutola

Through the use of symbolism, juxtaposition, and distortion, Afro-Surrealists explore complex themes of identity and belonging and offer alternative visions of African and African diasporic experiences. This movement invites viewers to question their assumptions about the world and to engage with art in a way that is imaginative and thought-provoking

Similarities and Differences

Afrofuturism and Afro-Surrealism share some similarities in their exploration of themes such as identity, culture, and history, and in their use of unconventional techniques to challenge traditional narratives. However, they differ in their approach and emphasis.

In terms of themes, Afrofuturism imagines a future that includes and celebrates African cultures and traditions, while Afro-Surrealism explores the intersection of African mythology and history with the subconscious and irrational. Both movements challenge Western narratives of Africa and offer alternative visions of African identity and experience.

In terms of techniques, Afrofuturism often incorporates futuristic elements such as technology and science fiction, while Afro-Surrealism uses surreal imagery and symbolism to create dreamlike worlds. Both movements experiment with form and medium, using a variety of artistic approaches to express their themes.

Culturally, Afrofuturism draws from the Black Diaspora and its connections to Africa, while Afro-Surrealism focuses more specifically on the intersections of African and African diasporic culture with Surrealism.

Despite these differences, both movements share a commitment to exploring and celebrating the richness and diversity of African cultures and identities and offer new and innovative perspectives on African art and culture. They also intersect in their efforts to challenge traditional representations of Africa and to create spaces for the imagination and the exploration of the unknown.

Impact and Significance

African Art Movements
A graffito showing Jean-Michel Basquiat – wiki commons

Afrofuturism and Afro-Surrealism have had a significant impact on African art and culture, challenging and subverting dominant Western narratives of African identity and history. These movements offer a fresh and innovative perspective on African art, encouraging artists to explore new themes and techniques and to push the boundaries of what is possible.

Through Afrofuturism and Afro-Surrealism, artists have been able to reclaim and celebrate their cultural heritage, while also imagining new and alternative futures. These movements have helped to create spaces for the exploration of African identity and experience, and have offered a platform for artists to challenge and critique dominant narratives of race and identity.

In addition, Afrofuturism and Afro-Surrealism have gained global resonance and relevance in contemporary art and popular culture. They have inspired a range of creative works, from literature and music to fashion and film, and have become a source of inspiration and influence for artists around the world.

Afrofuturism and Afro-Surrealism have become an important part of the broader cultural conversation around race, identity, and representation. These movements have helped to reshape the art world, opening up new possibilities and perspectives, and have become a powerful force for change and innovation.


Afrofuturism and Afro-Surrealism are two influential art movements that have redefined African art and culture. These movements challenge the traditional narratives of African identity and history and offer alternative visions that celebrate and embrace African traditions and cultures.

With a focus on themes such as identity, spirituality, and liberation, Afrofuturism and Afro-Surrealism have had a significant impact on contemporary art and popular culture, inspiring artists worldwide and reshaping the cultural conversation around race and identity.

These movements provide an opportunity to engage with African culture in a new and exciting way. As we move forward, Afrofuturism and Afro-Surrealism will undoubtedly continue to influence and shape the art world, providing a powerful platform for exploration and imagination.