When comic book creator Naseed Gifted co-founded Newark’s Khem Festival in 2015, he wanted to celebrate black creators of animation, games and comics. And he did.
The three-day festival, now in its eighth year, recognizes diversity in comics across art, fashion and comics. This year’s event at The Future is Black Afrofuturism Art + Tech Gallery on Broad Street featured 12 performers and attracted over 1,000 people, many dressed in cosplay or superhero costumes to line up with the theme: Bringing Wakanda to newark, before wrapping up last week. Afrofuturism was a concept of a gallery, which explored a future where black culture is celebrated in comics and technology. A pre-event included a Wakanda-themed ball based on the fictional East African country and home to superhero Black Panther.
“If you look at sci-fi, fantasy, and even historical material and media, most of the time they pull black people out of it,” said Gifted, 45, from Newark. “So we wanted to amplify the context that we’re going to be here…in the future and what that future looks like.
Less than 5% of the comics industry is black, Gifted said. But the idea of inclusive comic spaces celebrating black comics has been a movement since 1993, when the founders of Milestone Media asked, “Where are the black superheroes?” According to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, the release of Marvel’s Black Panther 2018 film showed the power behind the portrayal.
Gifted under his organization, PBS Media created the festival, an offshoot of his comic book, Afrofuturism Adventure “PBSoldier,” set in a renaissance Newark. A vice-principal at Newark Public School, he uses the festival to introduce STEM concepts such as engineering, math, science and technology.
“I will always paint Newark in the future direction” because of where I think it can go, Gifted said.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said the Khem festival “is amazing”.
“It’s a way of projecting oneself into the future. Sometimes people don’t see us when they talk about the future, and that’s important,” he said. “It gives us a space and, more importantly, it gives young black boys and girls the opportunity to see themselves in a different way, and that’s going to have an incredible impact.”
Through the Khem Festival, Gifted has created a platform for black artists like AfroFuturist and biologist Rashida Lovely and pilot Derrick Garvin to show and sell their work. Beautiful founded Newave Studiosa multi-arts and science studio in Scranton, Pa. Garvin is CEO of Magi Dynastya comic he created and combined with a game based on the comic.
At this year’s festival, artist Serron Green, also known as Explore freedom, was one of the gallery’s featured artists. Green, 53, has created an alternate universe where superheroes like Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern are black through his works.
“How does that change the narrative and the perception of the character itself,” said Green of Newark. “Or a character like Superman in a climate where black men get shot, constantly imagine if he was bulletproof.”
“The question is also, does the oppressed become the oppressor given this power?”
Another artist, Charles Date 16 of Rahway, used vibrant music and color to illustrate his characters and cross-story narrative. His series is called Vulcarmia.
“We don’t get a lot of opportunities to speak out, especially from our community,” she said. “So it’s important to draw, to write, to sing, to dance, to put more color in the world.”
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