This dreamy mural depicts tiny figures in spacesuits engaging in a variety of activities, including meditating, reading, and taking photographs. Like the cartoon people in Chris Johanson’s mural to its left, David Huffman’s painting extends beyond the main rectangle as if the small figures are dropping into the painted scene from above. The mood is simultaneously playful, peaceful, and disconcerting, embodying the multidimensional mental state of considering America’s complex past and present with a nod to its open future. These mysterious black and brown characters recur in his “traumanaut” series, existing in ambiguous landscapes that represent the cultural homelessness of generations of African Americans and the exploration of pervasive trauma within a troubled racial and political climate.
David Huffman is a Bay Area-based artist who makes mixed media paintings, often layering stenciled basketball net patterns, obscured text, and images of symbolically-loaded basketballs repeating until they become elegantly abstracted. He merges abstract backgrounds with figurative subjects, referencing science fiction and topics of race, politics, and longstanding cultural trauma. Born in 1963, he was raised in Berkeley, CA, by a mother who was an artist and activist with the Black Panther Party. In grad school he became interested space, especially NASA and the Apollo missions. In 1999 he received his MFA from California College of the Arts, where he now teaches in the Painting and Drawing Program. His work has been exhibited in group shows, including at the Studio Museum in Harlem and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, as well as in solo shows at galleries in San Francisco, Santa Monica, and Los Angeles.
Huffman’s work is part of a genre called Afrofuturism, a term coined by Mark Dery referring to works of art, music, and literature that blend themes of the African diaspora with aesthetics of techno-culture and science fiction. It addresses how black people have, in a way, already experienced an “alien abduction” when their ancestors were forcibly brought to America in the slave trade, thus disconnecting them from their original cultural context. Afrofuturism sometimes imagines a future in which black people venture out into space to reclaim lost identities and power over the narrative of their own history.