Afropunk and the Exploration and Expression of the Black Queer Experience

The final weekend of August 2018 brought together crowds from near and far to celebrate individuality and rebellion through arts and aesthetics. Afropunk, a festival over a decade into its existence, is the beckoning call for Black artists across all mediums, creatives, angels, gods, goddesses and patron saints alike.

This past Saturday and Sunday, folks gathered at Commodore Barry Park in Brooklyn, NY with the sun glossing over the the sea of brown canvases. Festivalgoers poured into the park donned in African garb, like the distinct conical hats of the Fulani people of West Africa, the Moroccan djellaba, or the South African Madiba shirts. There's also the DIY beauty in Afropunk fashion, be it customized with glitter, flowers, nylon or other materials, each look was a head turner.

Aside from fashion, Afropunk, under Chief Content Officer Emil Wilbekin, has built a reputation of being a safe space, which is especially important to members of the Black LGBTQ community. Its effectiveness is evident in the expression of men, women, and non-binary queer attendees. The exploration of one's identity, the wide span of one's creativity, and the push to tap into one's own fearlessness all paint the picture of Black queer beauty. 

(Photo Credit: Alfonso Francois)

What you also get from this mix is pure individuality. Afropunk's looming reminder of its no hate policy, large stageside banners that read, "No Sexism, No Racism, No Ableism, No Ageism, No Homophobia, No Fatphobia, No Transphobia and No Hatefulness", is the perfect example of acceptance and gives the OK to come as you are--a sentiment often preached in other places, yet hardly ever practiced. In between a star-studded lineup, which featured prominent Black acts such as Erykah Badu, Miguel, Janelle Monae, and so much more, GLAAD stopped to talk to a few LGBTQ attendees, many of whom explored the intersection of identity and performance.

(Photo Credit: Jamel Love)

"I really tried to pull together the idea of my alternative self fused with my heritage and culture and all different aspects of blackness," said Jari Jones, 27, "mixing leather and harnesses with Kentai and African prints." Albeit unapologetic, the bold choices were something like political statements, and together, an entire Black, LGBTQ movement of resistance against societal pressures to conform. 

(Photo Credit: Alfonso Francois)

Dakota Lee Watson, 23, embodies how resistance looks in a Hydrangea crown and matching pink jumpsuit, a direct response to how colors are assigned to gender and, thus, breaking gender norms. "Every year, I try to incorporate flowers into my looks," he stated. "This year, I decided to use my favorite flower in my favorite color as an ode to Miss Queen Beyoncé for her September Vogue cover." Marcus "Spaz" Bryant and Vann are no strangers to the Afropunk spotlight. The two effortlessly dance along the spectrums of gender identity and gender performance, exemplifying the persistence and the complexities of Black boy joy. 

"A festival like Afropunk encourages complete freedom of self-expression and individuality by uniting everyone of all cultural viewpoints without there being judgment of one another," says Spaz, 28 (right). Vann, 26 (left) illustrates his liberated spirit through his Afropunk fashions, stating, "I really wanted to be free and express myself freely this year. A place like Afropunk definitely encourages that."

(Photo Credit: Alfonso Francois)

Finally, there is Khalid Rosemin, whose expression of self laid less in his garments and more in his glow. "This year I aimed to be casually me. Growing up Black and gay can at times prove to be a challenge, but Afropunk is a place where I can comfortably exist in my own skin."

(Photo Credit: Alfonso Francois)

If Afropunk has done nothing else this year, it has set the tone for other events that both precedes and follows it. It has overtime become the world stage of Black (LGBTQ) beauty and acceptance. The space is a playground for the spirit to roam as freely as it allows. From a moral and ethical standpoint, it is where society should be and simultaneously years ahead of its time. 

We would say it gets no better than that, but we're already gearing up for 2019. Afropunk just outdoes itself every single time. 

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