Back to the Future: Visions of African Influence

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Studies have shown that people are extraordinarily bad at predicting the future. What we often do is project the present and re-arrange the furniture a little – a flying car here, a spaceship there. However, the future is often both wilder and more mundane than we imagine.

Yesterday fans of the iconic movie Back To The Future II celebrated the day when Marty McFly and Doc travelled into the future. On the comedy talk show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, the original actors reprised their roles as clueless time travellers – except they arrive in the future as it is today, not as it was imagined in the 1985 film. They observe that even with all the technology at our disposal (“supercomputers in your hand”), we are doing no more than watching cat videos and taking selfies.

“The future kinda sucks,” they conclude.

But without wild conceptions of the future drawn up by speculative fiction in the past we wouldn’t have many of the innovations we take for granted today. Jules Verne dreamed up space travel and submarines, Aldous Huxley imagined genetic engineering and William Gibson’s drew the first conceptual ideas of the internet. Even when depicting dystopias, such as George Orwell’s idea of an all-powerful surveillance state in 1984, these works of fiction inspired scientists and activists in the real world to try and improve what they saw around them. And it worked.

We Africans need our own visions of the future. More than imagining cool devices and technologies we need to dream up solutions for our present-day problems such as inequality and environmental devastation that will inspire the scientists, politicians and leaders of tomorrow. We desperately need visions, both better and worse, that centre our experiences and concerns. A future that doesn’t treat us as side characters, extras or backdrops.

And so, in partnership with the Goethe institut, we would like to present you with 10 flash stories that imagine the futures of our urban landscapes as we see them. They are accompanied by art that bring these tales to vivid life. Displayed at the African Future_Lagos exhibition in Lagos, these works are funny, searing, frightening and hopeful, each one reveals in less than a 1,000 words a vivid slice of the nightmares and dreams that move us.

Humans may not be very good at predicting the future, but no matter what we do, we as thinkers, writers and artists always influence it.

Chinelo Onwualu

23 October, 2015

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