Photography by Dania Reyes

By Priscilla Alabi

The hard work of four organizers and ten volunteers sold out Afrotectopia’s inaugural festival, with roughly 200 humans of all shades of brown in attendance from places as far away as Toronto and North Carolina.

The two-day event was held on the 4th floor of the Tisch School of the Art’s Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University (NYU). The conference centered new media arts, culture and technology being produced by people of color who are artists, designers, technologists and activists.

“It looks like y’all are in Wakanda,” said one social media commenter under a picture featuring Afrotectopians during lunch break.

It was by design.

“I came from a place that’s predominantly black and was very spoiled by the culture of the people surrounding me and all the things they produced,” said Ari Melenciano, the founder and producer of Afrotectopia.

Photography by Dania Reyes

Melenciano, 24, is a current graduate student at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) working toward her master’s degree in Interactive Telecommunications. She was surprised to experience culture shock in her first year at ITP which “deeply affected” her, she said. She desired to bring conversations around race and activism into the school where one was lacking in the space, she said.

While attending the Black In Design conference at Harvard University last year, Melenciano saw a space she was lacking at her graduate program and decided to bring that energy back to NYU. “It’s very ingrained that this isn’t a place for black people, and I wanted to make sure that black people know that it is an option for us when we are looking at grad programs,” said Melanciano.

In fact, one Afrotectopian, a perspective ITP student Ashley Lewis from Toronto, Ontario in Canada attended the festival precisely because she wanted to get insight into the environment of the program. Lewis, 28 said she “found a community I am akin to and a new framework for defining what it means to be black.”  

Panelists at Afrotectopia. Photography by Dania Reyes.
Attendees at Afrotectopia. Photography by Dania Reyes.
Attendees at Afrotectopia. Photography by Dania Reyes.

Though Lewis chose to attend sessions during the festival that were in the vein of afro-futurism, there were dozens of panel discussions with titles like, ‘Speculative Exploration on the Future of Blackness’, ‘Music, Technology and Activism,’ ‘Building Black Agency” and so on.

There were also ‘Think Tank’ sessions that were designed to “allow people to communicate about their passions, get together, collaborate and find solutions,” said Jaycee Holmes one of the organizers of the festival.

During a panels titled ‘Black Resistance of White Algorithms,’ Rashida Richardson, a lawyer at the ACLU of New York and Vincent Southerland, the executive director of NYU Law School’s Center of Race, Inequality, and the Law discussed issues people of color face and possible solutions to instances when technology developed by “CIS white men” is deployed in the justice system.

Both Richardson and Southerland impressed on their audience that the incorporation of technology to the justice system will not solve the problem of racism and discrimination. A possible solution is to continue to encourage young black and brown people to pursue careers in tech and the arts, so that they can go on influence how the technologies operate.

Beyond finding solutions right now, Ari Melenciano said she looks forward to bring back Afrotectopia for years to come.

Priscilla Alabi is a Writer, Aspiring Radio Rockstar and Journalist. Follow her @Priscilla_Alabi.

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