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“It’s not metaphysics. It’s quite the opposite: it’s about life within life.” —Orsolya Bajusz, Hungarofuturist
This is the year the world as we knew it stopped blindly rotating. Two pandemics, COVID-19 and racism, collided to jump-start a wave of new social consciousness. Globally, artists, academics, and grassroots organizations actively demystified widely heralded historical monuments. They provided the receipts of trauma and parallel histories (which have long-existed in the archive), shifting public consciousness about these monuments to imperialism and slavery. These heroes of colonization and domination were uprooted from place and space, both forcibly toppled and removed by municipal governments, as Black and other marginalized communities reclaimed their time.
As Black and brown folx continue to excavate our histories and dream up new futures, which techniques can we use outside of the disciplines that have also brought us violence? In light of the controversy around testing the COVID-19 vaccine, we are aware of the horrors that have been committed against Black bodies to create new scientific discoveries. Yet, the social sciences are just as guilty. Anthropology, ethnography, and sociology –– three fields used by academics to understand the beliefs, institutions, and rituals of a community or society, have been notoriously dominated by outsiders. These white male researchers were given the ability to name and classify the worth of marginal communities by contextualizing their lifestyles against the constructed norm of whiteness. It became more apparent that for Black and brown lives to be fully understood, they would have to break outside of the limited white imaginary.
When thinking of where to find a new approach, the answer may come from an unlikely place: an invitation to explore reverse archaeology from an Eastern European arts movement called Hungarofuturism.
Last year, I went on a road trip through Hungary to learn about the movement that was directly inspired by Afrofuturism. Since Afrofuturism had given an aesthetic and theoretical foundation to the work of the Hungarofuturists, my goal was to see if it could provide Black Americans another insight into existing with and beyond our history. According to the Hungarofuturist Manifesto, the movement “aims to oppose the notions of an ethnic, biopolitical, and racial essentialism of Hungarianness as promoted by the far-right government of Viktor Orbán … Hungarofuturism is an alternative concept of what it means to be Hungarian, namely the discovery of post-Hungarianism.”
In 2010, after the second re-election of Viktor Orbán and the FIDESZ party, a massive attack was waged against the free-press, academia, non-governmental organizations, civil initiatives, and cultural institutions. This incursion was rooted in an attempt to rewrite historical, political, and social narratives, both culturally and aesthetically (wanting to “make Hungary great again”). It motivated the launch of the Hungarofuturist movement, which aims to reimagine narratives of origin that restore hope in the future. As academics, artists, and community organizers, the Hungarofuturists were directly impacted by Orbán’s regime. According to Hungarian political scientist Zoltán Lakner, in Hungary, finding funding is almost impossible as a cultural producer who is challenging the nation’s political practices, especially since the state is the main financier of arts and culture. “After almost ten years of the Orbán regime, almost all the key positions are possessed by an Orbán supporter. The government has its own kind of taste for culture, but above all, directors and decision-makers, have to prove their political loyalty all the time,” says Lakner.
Hungarofuturism is rooted in self-redefinitions and a term they call “spectral retrofuturism,” a “returning which is not quite a repetition.” It’s not just about reimagining where one is coming from or going; it collapses our perceptions of national and individual identity, monuments, and historical sites and their connection to historical and future memory. It’s a timewarp, against rushing towards the newness (technology, space travel, etc.) characterized by other marginal futurisms. I noticed this as culturally symbolic locations like Lehel Market were transformed into a postmodern spaceship, and an unfinished construction became a holy temple for communication with their ancestors — beings from the star Sirius.
The Hungarofuturist movement gets inspiration from the work of Afrofuturists who were able to redefine themselves and also create new mythologies of origin and future as a form of liberation. Many of the techniques and motifs used in Afrofuturism (collage, surrealism, space, technology, and time travel) are present in Hungarofuturism, as well as the use of speculative inquiry to reimagine gender roles, social norms, and of course, history.
Hungarofuturist Dominika Trapp’s dance film project Leányos / Girl’s Solo Folk Dance unpacks preserved gender roles within Hungarian folkloristic art forms. The film is a documentation of the choreography titled ‘Leányos’ by Kata Szívós. The choreographed piece and documentary subverts the division between male and female normative behavioral patterns within traditional dances. The video includes archival footage of Hungarian dancers who performed the famous Hungarian male dance (Legényes), juxtaposed with contemporary footage of a solo dance that freely combines elements of traditionally male and female moves.
Filmmaker and artist János Brückner incorporates Hungarofuturist themes into some of his works, including paintings that reimagine Simon Perris (aka Ali Mahmud), an Afrohungarian soldier who fought for Hungary in World War One. Both serve as time portals that render Perris whole as opposed to a fragment of peripheral history. Brückner employs surrealistic techniques including collage and utilizes a partly post-digital painting process called “Human Printer.”
A large contributor of artwork within the Hungarofuturist Manifesto, Mark Fridvalszki’s work simultaneously contemplates utopian ideologies and — based on current circumstances — the bleakness of the future. To Fridvalszki, these are planetary futurist problems, not just Hungarian. His Kunsthalle Exnergasse Vienna project is a collection of images that span across Hungarian modernism, and his works UFO Future I. and Cosmic Acidism (etude II.) incorporate an inviting, almost homelike atmosphere to outer space.
In the current state of the world, the present is just as uncertain as the future. More people realize that the normal that we were living in before the pandemic was a world that neglects the needs and dreams of Black, brown, and marginalized groups in general. These are the moments when we can activate Afrofuturist and other futurist techniques to build blueprints for the future(s) we desire, and we don’t have to visualize or seek these possibilities and dreams outside of the world we know.
Sun Ra once said that “Space is the place,” but maybe we’ve already arrived at our destination. We don’t need to turn around or look forward. It’s with us the moment we open our eyes.
In convening with the Hungarofuturists, I learned you can bring joy and play into recontextualizing your history using your own methods and terms. The texts, sites, and icons of trauma we inherit can be subverted into alternative histories — that the spaces that seem so mundane, like your favorite market, are steeped in geohistorical truths — that go beyond a monument but instead are internalized into your living archive.
Correction 11/2/2020 12:27pm EST: An earlier version of this article misstated the year of the second re-election of Viktor Orbán; this occurred in 2010, not 2008.