The Future Is Present and All Around

How Alisha B. Wormsley Remakes the World

Alisha B. Wormsley, from There Are Black People In The Future: Artifacts.

When we say the “future,” it could mean anything: grown children, life on another planet, retirement, safe drinking water for everyone on earth. We might recall iconic films or books that dare us to dream a world so unlike ours, it can only be called “fiction,” even as we pant for that world and place ourselves in it. In the future, our faces, limbs, and desires dance on water. Or, they are mounted in concrete.


Alisha B. Wormsley, Messages, windows taken from home before demo, 2015.

For multidisciplinary visual artist Alisha Wormsley, the future encompasses the past and the present. “I’m making work that is the future, and the past, and the present, simultaneously,” she says. She is folklorist, collagist, archivist, photographer, filmmaker and historian; remembering traumas and piecing together shreds of history. Until she touches what remains of them, [the images] may not seem to make sense.

Children of NAN experiments

Alisha B. Wormsley, The Experiments from the “Children of NAN” short film series, 2012-present.

Wormsley’s work is inspired, in part, by her love for science fiction. “I love this idea of commenting on what is happening and what has happened and putting it in the context of the future and imagining how things could be different, how we’re moving forward and progressing as a human race,” she says. “When you watch sci-fi movies, just like in all movies, there aren’t any Black people in them.”

children of nan (time travel)5

Alisha B. Wormsley, from the “Children of NAN” short film series, 2012-present.

Observing this absence led to a film series, “the children of NAN,” set one hundred years into a post-apocalyptic future. The ‘abassi’ (dark-skinned women) and ‘casmirans’ (pale-skinned men) are the only two groups to have survived after war. The ‘casmirans’ capture an ‘abassi’ woman and harvest her eggs to create ‘experiments (mixed-race females).” Wormsley has completed the first installment, which is both horrifying and ambitious. Sounds of a woman’s screams can be heard between the voiceover of what seems to be a white male character, likely the architect behind the “experiments,” who is also their kidnapper, torturer, and “father.”

children of nan (time travel)1

Alisha B. Wormsley, from the “Children of NAN” short film series, 2012-present.

Wormsley uses photographs distorted with collage, live-action film, and photo montage. The video, “Door of No Return,” is a kind of commercial for “the children of NAN” project. It opens with a small sliver of light, the sole light in dungeons where the enslaved stayed for months before being forced to board ships that would take them through the treacherous Middle Passage. Dancer Jasmine Hearn wears a white dress, her body posed in front of spaces that could be of this time and not. Her movements suggest the ways in which women of African descent have survived, despite historical horror. Themes of time travel — being at once lost and found, resilient and vulnerable — are synonymous with Octavia Butler’s Kindred.


Alisha B. Wormsley, There Are Black People In The Future: iPhone.

“While I was creating ‘the children of NAN,’ I was thinking I would make sci-fi films and that there would be Black people in my films, and it hit me: there are Black people in the future.” Inspired by Homewood — a community in Pittsburgh with a rich socio-cultural history, traumatized by neglect and violence — Wormsley’s project, “There Are Black People in the Future,” is an archival snapshot of [multiple] histories.


Alisha B. Wormsley, There Are Black People In The Future: iPhone.

The found and donated objects include a cracked iPhone, a discarded fast food container, a box of Dominoes, a golden cross pendant, a glass ashtray with lipstick-stained cigarette butts, and a framed photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., among others. Each object, tagged with typescript, reads “there are black people in the future.” The objects seem like mundane everyday objects; relics tell a unique story of a particular people in time. Wormsley began the project as an artist with the Homewood Artist Residency, sponsored by the Andy Warhol Museum. Interdisciplinary sound artist and filmographer, Ricardo Iamuuri, collaborated on the project by excavating sound for the objects.


Alisha B. Wormsley, 2015 Installation shot, Studio XX in Montreal. Paint on Windows.

“I was working in this neighborhood where young men are shot and killed and incarcerated. There was this idea of being able to see myself in the future, including my students,” says Wormsley. “With the work that I make, I think about things in a spiritual kind of way. I feel that it’s a mantra, that if I say it, then it will happen…there are Black people in the future.” Wormsley’s work pushes past and through performance. Her work is both manifestation, call and response.


Alisha B. Wormsley, still from Extinction.

“For me, it became important to say it and phrase it. If I print this, it has some merit with people who are trying to kill us. Then I started thinking about Homewood and what they call this ‘blighted’ neighborhood but has this beautiful history that’s been replaced…For me, it was important to excavate this place and get objects from people who live there. I would pick things up, especially things I saw often, like Newport cigarette boxes…These objects of real people and putting my ‘juju’ on them. I’m printing on them and saying they existed at one time and that they will exist in the future. All these things are remnants,” Wormsley explains.


Alisha B. Wormsley, still from Extinction.

In “Extinction (w/Mantras),” a video installation that explores race, consciousness, and privilege via the possible extinction of bees, bananas, and red hair, Wormsley issues an ethical call: how can we be more concerned about fruit, insects, and hair color than we are about African American people and their survival? The video depicts various [white] people absent-mindedly eating or enjoying bananas. In the background, there is the sound of bees interchanged with newscasts suggesting the extinction of red hair, bees, and bananas.

extinction:mantras still

Alisha B. Wormsley, Extinction (w/Mantras).

A man and woman of African American descent appear on two screens on either side of the central screen, where they continue to consume their bananas. The African American man and woman begin to recite mantras: “I am;” “I am enough;” “I am not afraid;” “My eyes are open;” “I trust;” “I love;” “I allow.”


Alisha B. Wormsley, 2015 Installation shot, Studio XX in Montreal. TV Totem: video. Wings: collage on wood.

The mantras are powerful; the names of African American people killed by police violence that appear in the lower right corner of the screen as the White people in the center continue to eat, in a manner that reflects cultural scholar bell hooks’ theory of “eating the other”: Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Kimani Gray, Eric Garner. Their names appear in soft, gray script, then vanish silent as ghosts. “We will always exist because we exist right now,” Wormsley says. “Those things that are trying to attack us will never be successful.”

Ebony G. Patterson: Beneath the Glitz

“The bee is attracted to the flower because of its coloring, because of the beauty, and it isn’t until he gets in that he discovers if the flower has the nectar he wants.”