Before Yesterday We Could Fly, at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, imagines what the future might have looked like for Manhattan’s disappeared Black community of Seneca Village.
Yinka Ilori has contributed work to the exhibition, which takes over one of the museum’s period rooms with a set of furnishings and objects rooted in the African diaspora. Work by other contemporary creators, and historic pieces dating back to the 17th century, are also on display.
Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room takes the real-life community of Seneca Village as a source of inspiration. The predominantly Black community occupied a site close to the Met for almost 40 years until the City of New York seized the land and displaced residents to build Central Park in 1857.
The show envisions the lost future of the village, creating a domestic space that Ilori describes as being ‘powered by Afrofuturism – a transdisciplinary creative mode that centres Black imagination, excellence, and self determination.’
His bright yellow and orange Iya Ati Omo chair appears in the exhibition, alongside wallpaper made by Njideka Akunyili Crosby using an 1856 hand-drawn map of Seneca Village and ambrotype portraits of Black New Yorkers, blended with imagery of okra plant foliage.
That same mix of old and new continues throughout the exhibition, which includes a 300-hundred-year-old wooden pipe box and churn, as well as contemporary pieces such as Atang Tshikare’s wood and woven grass Mollo Oa Leifo chair and hand-pinched vases by Zizipho Poswa. The exhibition is open for the foreseeable future, but those that can’t make it in person can take a virtual guided tour above.