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Meet Artist Quentin VerCetty

Quentin VerCetty is a multiple award–winning multidisciplinary storyteller, educator, and Afrofuturist. A self-described visual griot, “artpreneur,” educator, “artivist,” and “ever-growing interstellar tree,” he is one of the world’s leading Afrofuturist artists.

VerCetty is the first-ever visual artist commissioned by Carnegie Hall to create a signature work of art to represent one of the Hall’s festivals. His AstroSankofa makes myriad references to the galaxy-jumping, time-bending, and mind-expanding Afrofuturist world that defines Carnegie Hall’s Afrofuturism festival, which will be taking place in the spring of 2022.

Ahead of the festival, VerCetty discussed his art and what Afrofuturism means to him with Carnegie Hall.

You call yourself a visual griot.

Quentin VerCetty: “Griot” is like the shell of a turtle to me—a shell that covers the body of the work I do. “Griot” is a West African word for “storyteller” that I got from my Djembefola teacher, a Burkina Faso master drummer and instrumentalist named Amadou Kienou. He comes from an ancient line of griots, and told me my artwork is my instrument, akin to a kora (an African harp), balafon (a xylophone-like instrument) or drums of the knowledge keepers of old. Visually, I’m doing similar work: storytelling, cultivating communal knowledge, and distributing it through my creations.

What does Afrofuturism mean to you? What about it excites you?

VerCetty: It’s a Pan-African frequency that’s a time-bending collage of legacies, an arts movement, and a creative practice. It is about thinking creatively about the collective healing of all living things through an Afro-centered lens, and represents the continuation of life in a fantastic holistic way. What excites me most—beyond the techie, fantasy, and extraterrestrial stuff—are the infinite ways human beings can grow, discover new wisdom, and be inspired by the ancient ways of the past.

How important is the visual element in Afrofuturism?

VerCetty: As a visual griot, the importance for me is the representation, the story it keeps, with the knowledge and wisdom it holds. This pertains to my concept of Sankofanology as the connection of the past, present, and future to generate substantiality and intentionality. The intentionality of representation in Afrofuturism allows for timeless, deep connections on many levels to many different people. This is important, as this has been the practice of African people that dates to the Nok of Nigeria and the people of KMT.

You coined the term “Sankofanology” to describe the function of your art. Would you please say more about this and how it relates to the festival?

VerCetty: Sankofanology comes from the West African, Ghanaian word sankofa, which describes how one can learn from the past, present, and future, or connect with it. The Afrofuturism festival is a celebration of artistic legacies of the past and present. It’s a wonderful statement of how Carnegie Hall is dedicated to being a forerunner in providing a platform to inspire the future and emerging voices and talents of the African diaspora.

Please describe your artistic process. How do you develop an artistic idea?

VerCetty:I see my work as an offering. Creating art is an offering to ancestors and to my community, and my creative process consists of several key components that require an ancestral consultation process, and receiving a vision from a dream of what to do or create. My artistic process is like a Sun Ra musical composition with orchestrations, from mind-mapping and writing down words, to sketching abstract ideas, to asking my ancestors and my future-self to guide me.

This ask often results in seeing my art direction or my art piece itself in a dream. Once I receive this “download” from the dream, I often conduct research on content, which would often go back to the mind-mapping aspect that helps to clarify the conceptual anchor of my work. Once the concept is solidified, I would either start creating digital assets—such as digitally sculpting my ideas or collaging things together—and from there I begin to flesh things out. Throughout my process(es), I would consult with my quantum ancestral guides to ensure the offering I am developing is in alignment with what I “innerstand” the offering to be. For AstroSankofa, I saw right away what the offering was meant to be. I hope that it is received by the masses with open hearts and minds.

Where do you think the Afrofuturism movement is heading? How do you see your role as artivist-educator in the movement evolving?

VerCetty: In my likkle opinion, the Afrofuturism movement is heading towards being more institutionalized and organized. There will be school courses, degrees, and training that will eventually teach people how to think about the future and work towards a better future from an Afrocentric perspective, such as incorporating the concept of ubuntu (“human-kindness”), to the inclusion of the Kwanzaa principles as a teaching methodology.

I see my role as an artivist-educator to continue planting the seeds of what my ancestors have inspired me to share. I see that role of being an instrument evolving as those “downloaded” inspirations and messages that show up in my work reach more people, such as teaching Sankofanology as a praxis and learning and teaching theory in a full course at different universities and school levels. 

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