Afro-Surrealist AI Art is RIGHT NOW

Nettrice Gaskins
3 min readApr 4, 2023
Nettrice Gaskins, “Surrealist Carnival 4,” 2023

Midjourney tested a new feature today: /describe for image2text. You can use the /describe command and upload an image to get 4 text prompts that try to describe the image. I decided it was a great time to explore Afro-Surrealism. First coined by Amiri Baraka in 1974, Afro-Surrealist art combines elements of Surrealism with the experiences and perspectives of the African diaspora. Afro-Surrealist artworks display fantastical, dreamlike imagery to challenge and subvert traditional notions of reality and identity. The Afro-Surrealist movement emerged in the early 21st century as a response to the lack of representation and inclusion of African diaspora in mainstream Surrealist art.

Ellen Gallagher, “Bird in Hand,” 2006

The inspiration for the creation of my latest AI-generated images is spectacle, which includes Black Hair Shows where contestants showcase their skills when it comes to styling Black hair; The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977); and Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977). I also recalled images people (fans) submitted for Lil Nas X’s Twitter contest. These examples relate to Surrealist art that produces fantastic imagery or effects in art, literature, film, or theater by means of unnatural or irrational juxtapositions and combinations.

Bronner Brothers’ African-American hair and beauty show

To create the new Midjourney images I started with an image I composited in Photoshop. I uploaded it using /describe for image2text and Midjourney gave me four text-based descriptions, from which I chose one to generate new images:

/describe for image2text output
Upscaled image output
Upscaled image output

Amiri Baraka coined the term “Afro-Surreal” to describe the writer Henry Dumas’s “skill at creating an entirely different world organically connected to this one.” In his 2009 “Afro-Surrealist Manifesto,” D. Scot Miller builds on Baraka’s observations and distinguishes Afro-Surrealism from Afrofuturism in the former’s concern with the “RIGHT NOW.” Right now is artificial intelligence or AI art and using AI generators such as Midjourney to create freaky, fantastical imagery.

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Nettrice Gaskins

Nettrice is a digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM education.