Why science fiction seen through a black cultural lens has a lot to say about architecture, urbanism, and cities.
Birmingham, Alabama-born jazz musician Herman Sonny Blount stood out quite a bit from the other Southern, African-American musicians who immigrated to Chicago in the middle of the 20th century. Then again, any piano player claiming he was a robed mystic born on Saturn would probably draw a few second looks from the crowd. Blount, who performed under the name Sun Ra, not only composed music for a sprawling jazz orchestra he assembled, which he called the Arkestra, but also wrote and lived by his own science fiction backstory, a blend of Egyptian symbolism and pulp science fiction imagery.
At first glance, it seems like an elaborate stage show, but peel back the layers, and you’ll find extraordinary depth and social commentary embedded in Ra’s intergalactic musings. By positioning himself as not from this world, specifically a country with a history of enslavement, Sun Ra made a statement about African-American liberation and self-determination: a fictional declaration of independence that carried over to the real world. A black man willing to “open the door of the cosmos” may have seemed as unlikely as one preaching self-determination and economic independence. And he isn’t alone: Ra’s use of science fiction tropes, in albums and his movie Space is the Place, to comment on race and social conditions was a forerunner of the artistic movement now known as Afrofuturism. […]