Words: Mwai Yeboah
Here you sit with issue no. 3 of what was once only a daydream floating around my difficult-to-turn-off mind. Had you told me a year ago that my team and I would have a magazine like this on newsstands, with global distribution, and in some of the most exclusive bookstores in the world, I would not have believed you.
So I sit here now, writing this letter to you all – the generous readers who have made that wild daydream of mine a remarkable reality – thinking about the idea of past versus present, of dreaming versus doing, of what exists versus what we create. And that brings me to the theme of this issue: Afrofuturism.
We can define afrofuturism as an artistic movement rooted in science fiction and technological themes. And I suppose that’s accurate. But as an African, I think of afrofuturism as an optimistic exploration of our future – balanced and informed by the reality (and, yes, pain) of our past. It’s our way of claiming agency through art. It’s daring to not only imagine, but create a world in which we shape our own story.
The one-and-only Sampa the Great embodies this distinct brand of exploration on this issue’s cover. Shot in Livingstone, Zambia, Sampa stands fiercely in her power as a warrior, boasting a shield made of cardboard and platinum, a helmet woven of hair. It’s a scene of juxtaposition – one that feels both primitive and futuristic. It’s about harnessing our heritage in a way that allows us to protect our future – building prosperity on a foundation of the fundamentals, on the lessons our ancestors gifted us. It’s a reminder that the future we strive to create is already within us, rooted deep in our past. Read more on page 82.
Here’s a thought I kept coming back to as we curated this issue of Fifty Four mag: there is no “paving your own way” without first paying homage. Letting go of our past is never the goal – understanding it is. And so this issue beckons us back to our origin story: Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa. We chose her as the host country for our second annual Greatest Party of All, where future-shapers of all kinds – writers, designers, celebrities, artists, musicians – came together for a night that celebrated what can be, in a setting that embodies what has been. The pinch-me guestlist included Laolu, Sam Adegoke, Thebe Magugu, Sarah Diouf, Hermon and Heroda Berhane, who are deaf, and Kehinde Wiley (to name a few). The energy was electric – soak it up on page 70.
Our resident travel editor Dan Carter also took a trip to Ethiopia in search of culture and truth, of historical accuracy in the name of futuristic possibility. We showcase the beautiful people of Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley and the Karo tribe on page 32.
And I’d be remiss to talk of the merging of past and future without mentioning this issue’s jaw-dropping fashion feature. Lafalaise Dion, and her head-turning reimagining of the cowrie shell, is living proof that innovation is everywhere – tied to our past as it hurtles toward our future. We look at Dion’s latest collection of cowrie-shell fashions in all of their boundary-pushing, undeniably moving glory. It’s an exploration of abundance of Black feminine energy and the liberation that comes from speaking our truth and sharing our story. It’s waiting for you on page 10.
Finally, I think about afrofuturism and what I hope this issue brings to life within each of you. I think about my aspirations for you, the reader – and for Africa, for those within her diaspora, and those outside of it who find themselves drawn toward her gravitational pull. What I land on is this:
May we all have the wisdom and humility to cherish and protect what we’ve been given and the courage to create something new that we, too, can give.