D Denenge Akpem is an Afro-Futurist space sculptor, performance artist, designer, writer, and educator who meticulously constructs fantastical Afri-sci-fi narratives comprised of multi-media environments inhabited by hybrid creatures as critical representations of identity and beauty. She creates interactive spaces to interrogate stereotypes, titillate the senses, and empower those who experience them to shape their own futures, rooted in Sun Ra's transformational legacy and asking "Who controls the future?" Her practice is concerned with issues of incarceration and liberation, both physical and metaphoric; social justice; the use of ritual as an act of revolution and transformation; and environmental consciousness.
For the last fifteen years, her award-winning work has bridged the disciplines of interior design, site-specific sculpture, public art practice, and science fiction. She considers her work Afro-Futurist and sees Afro-Futurism as a creative theory, rooted in history and African cosmologies, that uses pieces of the past, both technological and analog, to design the future. As an engaged creative practice, Afro-Futurism moves people to consider new possibilities for themselves, their communities, the world, and the universe. Akpem holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a BA from Smith College and is the recipient of awards and commissions including most recently a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for the Institute on Black Aesthetics and Sacred Systems for which she joined leaders in the field as a scholar and a presenter on Afro-Futurism.
Akpem has been invited to speak at numerous conferences around the country about “The MARS Project: Teaching Afro-Futurism as Methodology of Liberation” and recently was a panelist for “Voyaging The Fantastic: Afrosurrealism and Afrofuturism in Wangechi Mutu and Contemporary Art” at Northwestern University’s Block Museum. In Fall 2015, she organized a lecture by Emory Douglas and the Women of AFRICOBRA panel at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, supported in part by the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism, and the Office of Multicultural Affairs. Additionally, she was an invited guest for Clockwork's Radio Imagination which launched a year-long celebration/commemoration of Octavia E. Butler.
She has been interviewed for local and national television, radio, and blogs, and her writing has been utilized as a foundation for exhibitions as well as a dissertation research source. She has exhibited her work and held positions at venues including: Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; THE LAB for performance + installation, NY; Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago; and the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution, DC. Publications featuring her articles and interviews with Denenge include: Chicago Art Magazine; COONBIDNESS; POLVO interview with Ayanna Jolivet McCloud; as an interviewee and special thanks by Ytasha Womack in Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture; Sixty Inches from Center "Black to the Future Interview Series" with Tempestt Hazel; and Studio Chicago blog as part of the Xtreme Studio exhibition curated by Rael Salley and Sabina Ott at A+D Gallery.
In 2009-2010, Akpem developed the course "Afro-Futurism: Pathways to Black Liberation" and also over the past eight years has taught "Black Arts Movement", "Black World Ritual Performance", and "Arts of Africa" (Art History Survey) at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia College Chicago. She speaks nationally and internationally on Afro-Futurism and in particular, on "The MARS Project: Teaching Afro-Futurism as Methodology of Liberation."
She presented on Afro-Futurism as a 2014 Summer Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities Institute on Black Aesthetics and Sacred Systems at Emory University and had the great honor in 2014 also of: beaming in virtually to to introduce Space Is The Place for the Watershed Art Center's Afro-Futurism film series in Bristol, UK; meeting Wangechi Mutu and speaking on a panel at the Northwestern Block Museum at the invitation of Professor Alex Weheliye for the Fall series surrounding Mutu's exhibition "A Fantastic Journey"; and speaking about "The MARS Project: Teaching Afro-Futurism as Methodology of Liberation" at the Black to the Future Conference at Purdue (where she also presented on the MARS Project) where Alondra Nelson opened the conference as keynote speaker.
For the Social Justice Initiative as a panelist with Black Radical Imagination and SAMI (Students Against Mass Incarceration), she developed an audience-interactive ritual version of Alter-Destiny 888 (first performed at the LAB for performance+installation in NYC) for the Freedom Dreams...Freedom Now! Conference at UIC in May 2014 for 60 panel attendees. She has conducted community-based commemorative artworks with participants and partners from: South Side Community Art Center; Young Women's Leadership Charter School in Bronzeville (Chicago); Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (Grand Rapids, MI); and After School Matters with the Umbles Foundation. As the Program Coordinator for the Visiting Artists Program, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she coordinated conferences States of Art Criticism and Negotiated Localities: Artists, Designers and Citizens in a Green City, and the annual MFA and BFA Fellowship competitions. Her program development includes directing an audience interactive project for Speak Out/Speak Art for Brown v. Board 50th Anniversary with the Illinois Humanities Council and the development of a film screening around censorship featuring Sam Greenlee and The Spook Who Sat By The Door as a Critical Encounters Taskforce Member for 2011-12 "Rights, Radicals and Revolutions."