feature: visual artist melanie “coco” mccoy unravels the mystery of sankofa & afrofuturism

September 22, 2014

When you scroll through Black Twitter or Tumblr you see a lot of young, Black radicals talking about protesting the injustices against our communities and wanting to change the mainstreams ideas pressed on us. However, how many of those “activists” do you really see out in the streets making that wanted change? Visual artist and writer Melanie “Coco” McCoy is regularly amongst the mobs of protesters on and off the computer screen. She stands for Black liberation, feminism/womanism, Black history, spirituality, Afrofuturism, Black female sexuality, and Afrocentric ideals. Many of these resonate in Coco’s paintings. She uses the ideas she studies at Temple University as a African American Studies major and incorporates them into much of her work.
Much of her work is based on Sankofa. Sankofa is an Akan word (originating in Ghana) meaning, “to go back and fetch it”. Coco believes deeply in that saying (that we’ve all heard time and time again) “you don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’re coming from.”

By CookTP, AFROPUNK Contributor *

Coco is deeply inspired by the connection between the Black people and her studies of Black female disciplines, Afrofuturism, and sexuality. Much of Coco’s work is of the naked Black female body. She makes it a point to put them in positions that are sexual, but are empowered by their sexuality. These paintings are a direct connection to Coco’s theory that she has titled “Sankofic Sexuality”. The premise of her theory states that “that by one knowing their sexuality they are in fact knowing who they are”. She references Black scholar and feminist Audre Lorde’s 1989 novel Uses of The Erotic: The Erotic as Power, and Lorde’s beliefs that the superficially erotic has been encouraged as a sign of female inferiority. Coco points out that there is a power within the Black woman that is ignored therefore lies dormant.

Coco specifies that sexuality does not mean to be sexual or that one must have sex because “sexuality is not always superficial”. She states, “Sexuality is the reason why we exist biologically. Sexuality is what determines us as male or female.” Coco recalls her molestation when she was 15 years old and how that led her down a dark tunnel of not knowing who she was or who she wanted to become. After almost 6 years and then meeting her mentor/sister Ifetayo Flannery, she took the a couple courses in college that awakened her consciousness.

“I learned about these concepts of Sankofa in African tradition. My consciousness was growing, and then for the first time I saw that I was beautiful,” she says. “I looked at my past, my family, the past of my ancestors, I looked at my present and then I took a look at my future; I knew where I was going and that was sankofic.” Coco saw this as “reclaiming her sexuality”. She sees this reclamation as sankofic she was looking into her past, but also stepping into her more conscious future.

That conscious future, for Coco, is Afrofuturism. She wanted to denounce the idea that Afrofuturism is not about Black people dressing like robots and enjoying shiny objects. It’s actually much more metaphoric than that.
“For many Afrofuturism is an aesthetic movement, which would make sense because in African tradition aesthetics are very important. For myself, I look at Afrofuturism as a new and improved recycled revolutionary movement for Africans of the diaspora to combat racism and promote self-love and unity. Androidic references I believe are metaphoric. Black people are like androids, because although in sci-fi androids look human the world fears them because they are not and they know so much.

“For nearly 500 years, the world is not convinced that powerful Black beings are human, we are presented as an other; and alien. In comparison to androids, human beings are programmed since birth to think and perceive things a certain way. Black/African people of the diaspora globally were stripped of their culture, so much so that we don not seem to know who we are. Sometimes a blessing occurs in this that we stumble across an item, a song or a piece of literature and we remember all over again. This remembering is what the world see as problematic or a malfunctioning to one’s system in androidic jargon, but that is what one would consider a reprogramming. In human jargon, reprogramming is actually another word for consciousness and in African people, specifically Black consciousness. For these reasons, Afrofuturism gels very well with my “Sankofic Sexuality” theory.”

You have to be open to thinking outside of the box to understand Coco’s theory, but it all makes perfect sense to a large sub-sector of the Black community. Check out Coco’s artwork, writings on her website, and follow her on social media, and you’ll get a better sense of what it means to live sankofic.
IG & Twitter: @CocoFullofGrace.

* CookTP’s website: