Ingrid LaFleur is a curator, pleasure activist and Afrofuturist. As a recent Detroit Mayoral candidate and creator of AFROTOPIA, LaFleur implements Afrofuturist strategies to empower Black bodies and oppressed communities through frameworks such as blockchain and universal basic income. Ingrid LaFleur is currently the Social Impact Advisor for Detroit Blockchain Center.
As someone who has been active in both the political sphere as a mayoral candidate, and the cultural sphere as an artist and curator, what are the connections between culture and politics that feel most important to you?
I strongly believe that policy should follow culture and not the other way around. This is one way to cultivate a human-centered government which creates more peace and pleasure for everyone. I am currently living in Kigali, Rwanda. Rwanda’s government deeply understands human-centered governance and the need for culture to remain intact. It is foresight coupled with a respect for the people that is used as a foundation to build policy and one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Rwanda has leap-frogged since the 1994 genocide in the most wondrous ways. There is so much that the US, and especially Detroit, could learn from Rwanda. The most significant is the way in which the government, especially President Paul Kagame, understands the elements of healing and embeds that into the vision. The list is long but I will point out some of my favorite factors that I think Detroit could follow. 1) The Made in Rwanda initiative is extensive. I currently own a Mara Phone which was completely made in Rwanda. The motorbikes that are used as we would taxis are made within the country. Everything from tech to clothing to art is part of this initiative which has given Rwanda a huge economic boost. 2) Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is the cleanest city (and arguably the safest) in Africa. The infrastructure is very strong and organized. Across the country, on the last Saturday of every month, from 8 am to 11 am businesses close and every resident begins cleaning their neighborhoods. It’s called Umguanda which translates to “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome.” Apparently the practice has long been apart of Rwandan culture that then became a mandatory one. 3) Rwanda makes it extremely easy to set up a business in the country. It’s all done online. In fact, on the visitRwanda.com website, they list how long it will take to acquire licenses and other business needs. They are extremely confident in their efficiency.
I could go on. Everything from community courts to a universal healthcare system based on income to car-free zones twice a month, Rwanda continues to amaze me.
Although we did not experience a modern-day genocide, Detroit desperately needs to heal. What does Detroit need to heal from? Anti-Blackness. It is suffocating our city and dehumanizing our residents and visitors. We will never fully prosper until we acknowledge that it exists and that it is embedded in the initiatives of both the private and public sectors.
Do you believe cultural work such as artmaking and curatorial practice has the ability to affect the ways in which cities are developed and who they are developed for?
Art has a way of influencing and reflecting the tides of culture on the ground, which can potentially affect the shape of the city but only if the city’s leaders understand this power and have a vision. It has become extremely rare for politicians to have a strong long-term vision, so it becomes an uphill battle in protecting and cultivating the beauty that art creates in people’s lives. The white-washing of Detroit is a good example. Arresting instead of working with muralists and haphazardly painting over murals that even business owners say they want is an indication of the ignorance that is rampant in Detroit’s city government. Hopefully, the new Arts, Culture, and Entertainment Department will be able to rectify the situation and help Detroit’s creative sector flourish.
As Detroit experiences its “renaissance” many long-term residents have vocalized their distaste for frequently used phrases like “blank slate” that suggest that no one was here before the city’s gentrification. As a native Detroiter, could you share your thoughts on this narrative and how it can affect the city?
The “renaissance” people speak of is actually code for white people moving into the city and opening businesses that reflect their taste and culture (yes, white people have their own culture). Again, this is anti-Blackness in full force. It’s a blank slate because Black and Brown bodies are invisible and hold no value in the housing market. As a result, their culture, family, and dreams mean nothing. It’s sad really because it is the magic of those cultures that make Detroit so attractive to people and one of the main reasons they decide to relocate to the city. But again, if city government shows no appreciation and does not work to protect and cultivate these beautiful cultures emanating from Brown and Black people then, of course, it sets a tone that Detroit is indeed a “blank slate,” which the private sector is all too happy to accept because then they can invest in Detroit at lower price point.
When you were putting together the exhibit Manifest Destiny, what was the overarching framework that guided how you selected the work? What did you hope people take away from the show?
Within the Manifest Destiny exhibit, I explored what it meant for Black bodies to forge destinies based on their own vision. After working for a year in the emerging tech industry I became sensitive to how the process of developing a product is the most important part. I noticed that the lack of empathy and foresight during the development of a tech product could cause harm and in some cases death. This led me to question what the process of developing a destiny looks like within an Afrofuturist context.
I selected artists for the exhibition and public programming that invited audiences to learn new skills and gain a new vision, as in the case of the 3D-printing workshop with Detroit-based creative technologist Onyx Ashanti. In the VR installation, Neurospeculative Afrofeminism, we were invited to a surreal dimension to get our brain optimized with an archive of knowledge collected by Black female neuroscientists. This installation captured the imagination of everyone who participated. It brought so much pleasure to witness the joy of people experiencing this VR project over and over again.
Manifest Destiny was also my way of tackling the anti-Blackness that is circulating in downtown Detroit. Right now, Detroit’s downtown is almost fully occupied by whites who are new residents and visitors. It is clear that many of them aren’t used to being a minority in a majority Black city. By showing that Black people are multi-dimensional beings through an Afrofuturist lens, Manifest Destiny offered an alternative narrative to the one that dominates the media, Black people as poor uneducated criminals. I think it’s important for whites and Blacks to understand the expanded nature of Blackness. I’ve always worked towards people creating a new relationship to Black bodies. The dehumanization of the Black body ultimately dehumanizes everyone and all that does is create more trauma. I want to stop the trauma and begin healing. This is what Afrofuturism offers us. A way of accessing new visions and new worlds without the shaming but instead with inspiration and pleasure. I believe in the healing power of pleasure and try to offer this in every experience I curate.