Makara (2020) blurs the line between man and automata, envisioning a future in which machines are a vital part of local culture, integrating themselves into ancestral performance and manifesting themselves on industrial shorelines. In this future, Black bodies take back the narrative of technology and re-imagine a myth as a new future.

Words by Pierce Myers:

Makara (2020) was the first film Kordae Henry ever made. But it sat on his hard drive for years. “There’s so much pressure on your first project,” he says. “Makara took me the longest to finish.” Truth be told, it’s not hard to see why. There’s a tremendous weight, and ambition, in his films that brings to mind the rendition of Kanye’s gospel-rap masterwork “Ultralight Beam” in Arthur Jafa’s film Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death (2016). In it, the choir sings “We on an ultralight beam / This is a God dream.”

Makara is the manifestation of a God dream.

Henry, known by familiars as Jatafa, treats his work as a resuscitation of the mythology of technology—the creation of godlike machines which realign the labor relationships that convert geology into capital. The machines, which he renders with 3D VFX tools, excavate lost moments in the history of labor and contextualizes them in the language of the future. With the inspiration of sci-fi, Afrofuturism, and Detroit techno, the film reimagines systems of power and trade through the variant of Hindu mythology that Jatafa encountered in the East African island nation of Mauritius, in which an amphibious sea creature named Makara is used by the goddess Ganga as a protector of sacred thresholds, such as ports.

He explains the research and production process from his studio in Los Angeles. “I made a timeline that shows how minerals are excavated and shipped during iPhone production. At first, I thought I should make a film about each part of that process. But I realized that it wasn’t about the tech; it’s about the body, and the Black body has been a force of technology through history. That form was alienated, but it was also empowered. Black people embody agriculture, infrastructure, and architecture but in that process are often only left with stories and music. So I go into history and find the things that were carried throughout that period of alienation, and I carry them into the future. Those things that could be carried, whatever was left over, that’s what I’m picking up and taking forward.”

In the film, LA-based performer Carlo Wizzy embodies these two directions in time. He returns to the sea, in reverse, where he ritually breathes life into a shipping machine that intervenes in the flows of global supply chains. It’s an infrastructural version of his dance performance in Kahlil Joseph’s Until the Quiet Comes (2012), in which a man comes back from the dead in Nickerson Gardens.

Going forward, Jatafa wants to open a technological territory for the black arts movement. He’s currently developing a digital avatar using mocap and facial tracking techniques which can be virtually puppeteered in real-time. In other words, he wants to insert a deeper level of subjectivity into the futures that he imagines. “It’s a technique that helps me communicate the things that I’m afraid to say,” he explains. This concept again evokes a productive comparison. If Arthur Jafa’s cinematic technique is Black Visual Intonation, then Jatafa’s is a hybrid that combines Black Visceral and Black Virtual Intonation, a way of introducing embodied cultural memory into the future interfaces of digital space.