THE PAST AND THE PRELUDE
In his introduction to the classic novel Invisible Man (1952), ambiguous black and literary icon Ralph Ellison says the process of creation was “far more disjointed than [it] sounds … such was the inner-outer subjective-objective process, pied rind and surreal heart.”
Ellison’s allusion is to his book’s most perplexing character, Rinehart the Runner, a dandy, pimp, numbers runner, drug dealer, prophet, and preacher.
The protagonist of Invisible Man takes on the persona of Rinehart so that “I may not see myself as others see me not.” Wearing a mask of dark shades and large-brimmed hat, he is warned by a man known as the fellow with the gun, “Listen Jack, don’t let nobody make you act like Rinehart. You got to have a smooth tongue, a heartless heart, and be ready to do anything.”
And Ellison’s lead man enters a world of prostitutes, hopheads, cops on the take, and masochistic parishioners. He says of Rinehart, “He was years ahead of me, and I was a fool. The world in which we live is fluidity, and Rine the Rascal was at home.” The marquee of Rinehart’s store-front church declares:
Behold the Invisible!
Thy will be done O Lord!
I See all, Know all, Tell all, Cure all.
You shall see the unknown wonders.
Ellison and Rinehart had seen it, but had no name for it.
In an introduction to prophet Henry Dumas’
1974 book Ark Of Bones and Other Stories, Amiri Baraka puts forth a term for what he describes as
Dumas’ “skill at creating an entirely different world organically connected to this one … the Black aesthetic in its actual contemporary and lived life.” The term he puts forth is Afro-Surreal Expressionism.
Dumas had seen it. Baraka had named it.
Afro-Surrealism rejects the quiet servitude that characterizes existing roles for African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, women and queer folk. Only through the mixing, melding, and cross-conversion of these supposed classifications can there be hope for liberation.
Afro-Surreal is mostly from artists in a certain form of otherness who don’t see themselves in the longstanding tradition, given prime rule over all literature, visual art, music, fashion and theater since the turn the turn of the eighteenth century…
Afro-Surrealists strive for rococo: the beautiful, the sensuous, and the whimsical. We turn to Sun Ra, Toni Morrison, and Ghostface Killa. We look to Kehinde Wiley, whose observation about the black male body applies to all art and culture: “There is no objective image. And there is no way to objectively view the image itself.”