feature: afronouveau: the new black

February 12, 2016

Art Nouveau: a style of decorative art, architecture, and design prominent in western Europe and the US from about 1890 until World War I and characterized by intricate linear designs and flowing curves based on natural forms.

AfroNouveau: a style of decorative Afrofuturism art established in 2016 characterized by intricate linear designs and flowing curves based on the poster design of Art Nouveau and art forms originating in Africa with heavy references to, and celebrates, the strength and diversity of women from the Diaspora.

I have always been fascinated with Art Nouveau in general, and the work of probably its most famous practitioner, Alphonse Mucha. It is the first major artistic stylistic movement in which mass-produced graphics played a key role. The Art Nouveau movement gave birth to the poster and, in some ways, the discipline of graphic design itself, as typography became an integral part of the work. It is the movement where painting became illustration, accessible and marketed to the masses. I fell in love with the sweeping, romantic, sensuous line work of Mucha’s pencil art as well as the interplay between the “modeled” and “flat” watercolors. The work moves in stasis. It dances in stillness. It is alive.

It is no wonder why Art Nouveau remains a popular art form, why college dorm walls are still adorned with reproductions of Mucha, Gustav Klimt, Aubrey Beardsley, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and others. There is no wonder why Art Nouveau remains a huge influence on artists, particularly those illustrators in the comic book industry. The Art Nouveau aesthetic lends itself to the comic book medium with its graphic affectations enhancing the graphic narrative.

As an illustrator and graphic novelist, my work focuses on disseminating the African Diasporatic experience, the diversity of culture, the continuing need for social justice and remixing these concepts in fantastic flights of Afrofuturistic fantasy. In addition, I find myself drawn to creating strong, fierce, capable and beautiful women of color. Women, especially women from the Diaspora have always been warriors, protectors and defenders. From Harriet Tubman to Sojourner to Assata Shakur to Angela Davis to Bree Newsome and so many others, they have always set the standard and more than capable of picking up and wielding the sword that would fall in battle. 

I found, as I was creating this series, that the black framing reminded me of the rod ironwork created by the African-descended artisans in New Orleans that would adorn the balconies, gates and lanterns of the historic French quarter. The intricacy of the iron with their secret messages and silent declarations of Black pride became at once a barrier, and an invitation, to the worlds my gatekeepers would defend with stoic determination.

This series emerged from that love of Art Nouveau, African Diasporatic Art, Afrofuturism and simple Black Pride. The women featured in this series represent the defiant spirit of the Black woman. They are the muses of social change, representation, racial and gender equality. They are your mothers, sisters, friends and wives. They are Black History, Black Present and Black Future. They are fantasy and fact. 

This is my Mythos… This is AfroNouveau. #BlackFutureMonth2016

By Jiba Molei Anderson, AFROPUNK contributor