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ConFluence makes space for BIPOC nerds to create, play

Three women dressed as sci-fi and fantasy characters.
"ConFluence: A Cultured Multiverse" provided a space for BIPOC nerds to cosplay and connect. Leslie Barlow, seen here on the left, was the lead producer of the event. (Photo by CBJ reporter Jasmine McBride)

This weekend, Public Functionary in Minneapolis hosted a two-day celebration of sci-fi and fantasy, centering content by and for Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color.

ConFluence: A Cultured Multiverse” was overflowing with creative energy. Attendees were encouraged to come as their full authentic “nerd” selves, and many joined the event in their favorite cosplay - dressed as characters from Star Wars, Marvel, and several other universes.

ConFluence is the brainchild of visual artist Leslie Barlow, whose paintings and murals explore racial identities. Barlow says she attended comic and cosplay conventions, attracted to the freedom of self expression, but something was missing.

“It's a very white male dominated space,” explained Barlow. “I think the only piece I was ever missing from the conventions that I was going to in my 20s was the representation of people of color.”

She says she created ConFluence to fill that missing piece. The space was filled with images of animated characters with deep skin tones and BIPOC-centered fantasy video clips with afro-futurist overtones.

“I think it's just important to recognize that nerds come from all communities,” said Barlow. “I want people to leave with a sense of joy and optimism, that they are not alone in their interests and that also, after experiencing space like this, that this community knows that we can make more of these kinds of spaces.”

The weekend included several workshops, such as “Virtual Reality: Future Potentials of Black Creativity and Spatial Realities,” and “Native and Indigenous Futurism: Metaverse and The Coyote Way.” There were also panel discussions on such topics as “Asian and Asian American Geeks: Forward and Back,” and “AfroFuturism unveiled: The Creative Alchemy of Black Cultural Production.”

In addition there was an on-going game room and dance space, and an on-theme vendor marketplace.

Barlow says though the label “nerd” was given to her in childhood as an insult. She says ConFluence was the opportunity to reclaim the label and embraces it as a badge of love and passion. An action she desires to share with others.

“I feel like ‘nerd’ is more of a verb because you can ‘nerd out’ about pretty much anything. That's why we call Confluence ‘a convention of sci-fi, fantasy, futurisms, and fandoms’ – plural. Because fandoms can be anything from Star Trek, Star Wars, Marvel, that kind of thing. But it can also be anything.”

The weekend was full of joyful “nerdy” fun. Barlow says while this was the first ConFluence convention, it certainly won’t be the last.


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