view the future as timeless,” says Ashanti McGee, one of three curators of Forward, an exhibit that gathers future-themed artwork by more than a dozen Las Vegas women of color. The future lies ahead, of course, but it’s also unfolding around us right now, and is situated in the past—which is to say, it’s more a never-ending process than a faraway destination, and it’s less about gee-whiz technology than shifting modes of human experience.

Fawn Douglas, “Nuwu Burden Basket.” Photo: Scott Dickensheets

This all becomes quickly apparent when you step into the gallery at the Nuwu cultural complex, where Forward is on view through May 4. Aside from the bold, effusive paintings by Kamora Jones, which propose an Afrofuturist consciousness of cosmic scale, the artists—including co-curators Fawn Douglas and Sapira Cheuk, as well as Krystal Ramirez, Adriana Chavez, Avis Charley, Jung Min, and others—mostly skip overt nods to science fiction. No jetpacks, alien planets, androids, or other tropes of a future too often imagined on the other side of a vast time gap from now.

While McGee proclaims herself a nerd with an affinity for jetpacks, she knows that “when we think about the future, we detach ourselves from how we get there. You can’t think ahead without reckoning with what came before.”

Q’shaundra James’ digital print/sculpture, “The Saints: The Mothers of Gynecology.” Photo by Mikayla Whitmore, courtesy Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art

That ethic of reckoning is most sharply pronounced in Q’shaundra James’ digital print and sculpture combo, “The Saints: The Mothers of Gynecology.” It brings to light the story of Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey, enslaved women forced to endure medical experiments in the antebellum South so that a white doctor could bequeath the science of gynecology to the future. It’s a pointed reminder of the grim backstories frequently glossed over by triumphant narratives of progress.

Elsewhere around the gallery, Forward examines this connected-time notion of the future in registers ranging from the wistful (such as Chavez’s installation, “Generational Pattern Shifter,” in which phrases like “Be Vulnerable” and “My Name Is Your Prayer Answered” are stitched into domestic snapshots) to the whimsical (Xochil Xitlalli’s caterpillar and butterfly pieces). Ramirez’s three sculptures each present a moving panel painted with blocky yellow shapes that exude a kind of abstract, Tetris-style futurity—until you focus on the negative space and realize these are floor plans (of homes the artist remembers from her youth), whereupon past and future entangle again.

Krystal Ramirez, “A Sign for Home, Signs to Nowhere” (one of three). Photo: Scott Dickensheets

Cheuk was apprehensive when she was approached to participate in Forward—thinking about the future made her anxious. “I was trying to figure out why there was such a big disconnect for me,” she says.

It turned out to relate very much to the present. “If you’re of a certain demographic, or a person like me—I’m an immigrant—you’re always trying to negotiate your current existence,” she says. “You’re trying to survive the now.” From that conflicted vantage point, it proved discouraging to speculate on the likelihood of a safer tomorrow. No surprise that a vulnerability suffuses her gestural “Body and Time Studies #1-3,” ephemeral wash drawings that incorporate soy sauce and sugar into their ink and graphite.

Forward is subtitled “A Weaving Our Cultures Exhibit.” Weaving Our Cultures is an artist collective that sprouted from the 2019 Womxn of Color Arts Festival, an effort that was curtailed by the pandemic (but not before it resulted in A Common Thread, a McGee-curated exhibit at UNLV’s Barrick Museum in 2021). McGee says the collective’s effort to overcome the isolation of that period fostered a spirit of connectivity in their work. In particular see “Threading,” credited to pseudonymous artist Sleepy Ephem: hundreds of red threads hung together in a capillary array that symbolizes women forming a larger, delicate, yet life-giving unity. (This ethos of connection is apparent in the workshops Nuwu has hosted with the exhibit.)

“Threading,” by Sleepy Ephem. Photo: Scott Dickensheets

Given the complicated circumstances from which some of this art arose, it’s worth asking: Are these artists optimistic about the future?

Cautiously, say McGee and Cheuk. Certainly Jones’ exuberant canvases qualify, as does Douglas’ “Nuwu Burden Basket”—a traditional vessel fashioned from conduit wire, it foresees a future in which Indigenous bodies of knowledge deftly incorporate change while keeping their essence intact.

On second thought, maybe it’s not precisely correct to say Forward lacks a sci-fi outlook. “Science fiction,” said the late novelist Octavia E. Butler, cited by McGee as a presiding spirit of Afrofuturism, “frees you to go any place and examine anything.”

Forward—a Weaving Our Cultures Art Exhibition is on view at Nuwu Art Gallery + Community Center, 1331 S Maryland Pkwy., Las Vegas through May 4. Related workshops include “Visualizing your Spiritual Realm Workshop” by Kamora Jones at 2 pm Saturday, March 30 and “Look Forward, Planning Ahead” by Sapira Cheuk at 6pm on Friday, April 12.

Cover image: Xochil Xitlalli, “Our Butterflies: Day of the Dead Altar.” Photo: Scott Dickensheets

Posted by Scott Dickensheets

Scott Dickensheets writes a daily newsletter for City Cast Las Vegas. In previous lives he was features editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, deputy editor of Nevada Public Radio's Desert Companion magazine, and editor in chief of Las Vegas CityLife and the Las Vegas Weekly; he also held numerous posts at the Las Vegas Sun. He has edited, co-edited, or contributed to eight volumes of the Las Vegas Writes book series, and was an assistant editor of Nevada: 150 Years in the Silver State, the official book of the Nevada sesquicentennial.