Tag Archives: Indigenous Identities Series 2011

#98 Musing about Native Steampunk- Guest blog by Monique Poirier

Note: Cross-posted with permission from Moniquilliloquies.

Photo credit: Monique Poirier

One of the most disheartening aspects I’ve found in American Steampunk alternate histories is the assumption that despite alternate histories that allow for magitek and phlebotinum and aether-powered airships and steam-powered, clockwork everything from cell phones to teleporters to ray guns… there is still an assumption that NDN genocide took place. That European contact can only have occurred in the 15thcentury and that it can only have resulted in colonialism, slavery, resource theft, land theft, and genocide.Come on, people.

We can have clockwork robots but not POC civilizations?
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#97 The Path Without End: An Anishinaabe Steampunk Film — Guest Blog by Elizabeth Lameman

Note from Ay-leen:  On the blog, I reviewed Professor Lameman’s one-shot comic The West Was Lost. It’s a pleasure to have her speak here about her newest Native steampunk work, The Path Without End.  This short film will be screened at the upcoming art festivals: imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, October 19-23, 2011, in Toronto, Ontario and the Skábmagovat Film Festival, January 26-29, 2012, in Finland.

The Path Without End is a retelling of Anishinaabe stories of Moon People who traveled here from the stars by canoe.  The title is a direct reference to Basil Johnston’s retelling.  In this telling, I recreate the Human and Moon lovers as they travel, propagate, and face the unending chase of colonization.

I have been largely inspired by my mother, Grace L. Dillon, whose scholarship is in what she refers to as Indigenousfuturism.  She advocates for Indigenous writers of science fiction.  In fact, Indigenous peoples have been telling science fiction stories from the beginning.  In a sense, in The Path, the planets are both the cosmos themselves but also spiritual planes and representations of the landmasses on earth.  There is no single reading of the story.

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#96 The Native Steampunk Art of Gustavo Alberto Garcia Vaca

by Gustavo Alberto Garcia Vaca. Quote reads: "The strangeness of what we were about to do, the unearthliness of it, overwhelmed me. I was like a man awakened out of pleasant dreams to the most horrible surroundings. I lay, eyes wide open, and the sphere seemed to get more flimsy and feeble, and Cavor more unreal and fantastic, and the whole enterprise madder and madder at every moment.” ~H. G. Wells.

When thinking about the retrofuturistic side of science fiction, people have categorized it in various ways. Just recently, Lorenzo Davia went all the way as to delineate the various uses of “-punk” in science fiction, sorted by time period. Although this is one helpful way of thinking about retrofuturism, it is also quite limiting in the sense that that time periods and examples he lists run in accordance to Western history.

Does that mean non-Western cultures don’t have a concept of retrofuturism? Of course not, but one of the challenges of conceptualizing retrofuturism in a non-Western context is the understanding that non-Western cultures may conceptualize time itself in a completely different way than how it is realized in the West. In this manner, the flow of time can be circular rather than linear; a person can look forward into the past instead of backwards; destines are repeated or mirrored or fractured in a dream space; the relationship between one’s perception of history can fully exist in the now as opposed to happening back then.

Thus, a non-Western retrofuturistic aesthetic take may not necessarily translate to anachronisms within known history, but change the flow of time, technology, and human advancement to truly create an alternate world divorced from our own.  Take, for example, the school of Afrofuturism; though stemming from Futurism, the concept behind this science fictional aesthetic combines ancient African myth, legends, and non-Western cosmologies with sci-fi tropes of space travel, alternate universes, and alien planets to carve out a space where the racial and cultural Other can exist in this extraordinary “future” outside of normative time.

I’ve seen Afrofuturism have a big impact on non-Western aesthetics in science fiction. There is also a distinctive musical element to this concept of retrofuturism too, especially with the involvement of jazz, techno, hip-hop, and dub (all genres that also have roots in the African diaspora).

The dynamic of this past-future-musical influence is seen in the latest work of visual artist and writer Gustavo Alberto Garcia Vaca, who identifies as Columbian-American with African, Native, and European ancestry.  He has been published in the United States and internationally, and his works have been on display in numerous mueums, including the Mori Museum/Mado Lounge in Tokyo, Japan; LACMA in L.A.; MOCA in L.A., the Institute of Contemporary Arts [ICA] in London; and Parco Museum in Tokyo, Japan. Much of his work also incorporates collaborations with a diverse group of artists, writers, and spoken-word poets known as Unification Theory. According to their website, the art collective is described as:

street futurism: visualizing the possibilities of the future through the prisms of Graffiti, Hip Hop, Spoken Word, Digital/Video Artwork, Techno, Funk and Jazz.  The unification of these diverse creative minds builds new visual and sonic structures.  This innovative collaboration of live music, DJ mixing, digital/video artwork projections and live painting is a new form of performance.

Now how much of Vaca’s work can be considered retrofuturistic, when it is also futurist? The key is the conceptualization of his art as working under the same guidelines that Afrofuturism had established: as an artistic method that recognizes the importance of the past when re-imagining the future. So it’s not too difficult to see how Vaca has become interested in the steampunk aesthetic. After the jump, I talk a bit more with Gustavo himself about his recent work.

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More than Turkey Day Nostalgia: An Indigenous Links Round-Up

Marty Two Bulls, ‘First Thanksgiving’ Click for source.

As a woman of color and as an American, I realize that some holidays just work to mythologize a past that I can’t be really proud of. Thanksgiving in the US is one example, of course. I still think, however, you can be thankful and reflective (after all, this is really what the day is about: acknowledging our pasts) without candy-coating our national history. So, some linkage below!

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