Cultural Heritage, Urban Justice and Rewriting the Future

Feminist science and speculative fiction authors, film-makers, musicians and artists have recognized that any vision of a future that has eradicated prejudice is such a far leap from the everyday reality of every corner of the world, it can only be a flight of fiction, a story of a future just beyond our grasp, unless we are committed to finding more just transitions and transformations.

Whose Heritage Matters is concerned with how cultural heritage can be leveraged in this future imagining, by drawing on the past and present in creative ways.  

In August the WHM team met in Sheffield, and as part of the trip we visited an exhibition entitled ‘Rewriting the Future’, featuring four artists: Sophia Al Maria, Sonya Dyer, Ursula Mayer, and Victoria Sin.

According to the curatorial statement:

“Speculative and science fiction are spaces where potential futures are explored, questioned and proposed. As with many disciplines, they are also spaces where creative, talented female, trans, non-binary and intersectional queer perspectives have been overlooked. Mainstream science fiction has long-perpetuated and replicated unequal structures of power, projecting them into a depressingly similar future. The four artists in the exhibition envisage new possibilities, extrapolating from our current tumultuous conditions”.

The exhibition pulled four evocative, prophetic and visceral installations together.

Ursula Mayer’s three channel video entitled ‘ATOM SPIRIT’ (2017) depicts a feminist queer future where science, nature and social life are seamlessly intertwined. ‘The film set in, and made with the LBQTIA+ community in Trindad and Tobago, follows a group of evolutionary geneticists studying and collecting DNA from all forms of life’. The video installation is sensual, luscious, and gentle in a provocative way – where futures can be utopian in unfathomable ways if current inequalities and aggressions are erased.

Sonya Dyer’s installation, Hailing Frequencies Open (2019) involves three screens and an Anish Kapoor black spaceship sculpture. The multi-media installation reflects on black women in science and space. On the screens are interviews with scientists about Star Trek, Henrietta Lacks cells in space, and mythology related to Andromeda. The piece interrogates ‘women’s subjectivities within speculative futures’.

Sophia al Maria’s The Magical State was shot in Columbia. She uses an evocative performance of a woman possessed by an ancient spirit, to explore the fossil fuels and the impact of mining. ‘Her primary interests are around the isolation of individuals via technology and reactionary Islam, the corrosive elements of consumerism and industry, and the erasure of history and the blinding approach of a future no one is ready for’.

Victoria Sin’s ‘And at the pinnacle, the foot of a mountain (2019) is a sound installation housed in a womb of red cloth. The piece tells a story of a botanical world where the orchid is a primary being. ‘Fantastical flora seduce and prey as parasitic and symbiotic relationships play out at microscopic and monumental scales textured with digital and organic soundscapes’.

Through this collection of artworks, the audience is transported into a realm of feminist possibility, where normative notions of art, culture and heritage are stretched, challenged and remolded into a future-focused phenomenon. The exhibition weaves pasts, presents and futures in a sensuous, vibrant and critical engagement with time, space and imaginaries.  It demonstrates that artful experimentation may offer more critical approaches to the futuring of heritage practices that centres marginalized perspectives in the interest of more just opportunities.