Alien Nation: Brother From Another Planet
Alien Nation is series of portraits of my brother in a space costume in our hometown Dallas, Texas. The photos vary from slightly washed out cool toned photographs to black and white to highly saturated and high contrasted color photos. A blue theme is present throughout all the images.
This photography project was created to continue the conversation of Afro-futurism and the alienation many black Americans feel by creating a character. The character is played by my brother Toussaint. While brainstorming how I would complete this project, the sentiments James Baldwin expressed in The Fire Next Time came to mind. Baldwin writes “the Black man has functioned in the white man’s world world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.” I wanted to visualize the idea of the black man moving “out of his place”, changing his status as a fixed star to a cosmonaut with agency and ability to move across the galaxy. I chose the space suit to symbolize growth and mobility. As an early teenager I listened to the John Kennedy September 12, 1962 at Rice University speech over and over again in the Public Service Broadcasting song “The Race For Space”. I had it memorized. In the speech, President Kennedy says “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept…space is there, and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. ” These lines always inspired me because space represented a space devoid of politics. I know this is not the case now, but I believed it at the time. The idea of a cosmic existence was intoxicating.
With my project Alien Nation I wanted to use the ideas from John Sayles’ “The Brother From Another Planet”. In the movie, a fugitive alien crash lands in Harlem during the 1980s. The mute alien, played by Joe Morton, appears black and is taken in by other Harlemites. In my project, the viewer can take the subject as either alien, black, or both. Black Americans face a unique predicament that others from the diaspora do not. Having no homeland other than the land that enslaved them and the 11,730,000 square miles of land that is the African continent. The short film
by John Akomfrah The Last Angel of History furthers this idea of the outsider alien Black American using Greg Tate’s alien lens. “All the stories about alien abduction, all the stories about alien spaceships taking subjects from one planet and taking them to another, genetically transforming them…he’s really recasting American history in the light of science fiction. How much more alien do you think it gets?” The black American is an alien everywhere, never knowing their true home planet. We’re myths as Sun Ra put it in “Space is the Place”.
The photos call on the early portraits of astronauts by NASA like Gordon Cooper. They also draw inspiration from the Afronauts short film by Frances Bodomo, that was originally inspired by the 1964 Zambia National Academy of Science, Space Research and Astronomical Research.
On a more personal note, this project was created in collaboration with my brother. Growing up we both experienced the alienation of being one of the only black people in our neighborhood and respective schools. We loved science fiction growing up and continue to now. As young kids, we dreamed and looked through telescopes at the stars pointing out the big dipper and squealing when we saw the milky way during clear skied camping trips. We always wanted to go to space. Brother from another planet, the second half of the title is a play on words. We are Afronauts, siblings from another planet.