Category Archives: Cosmic Ghost at the Museum

Cosmic Ghost at the Museum: Notes from Kindred Book Club

Here’s the third recap from The Shadows Took Shape exhibition. Today, I am sharing the notes and questions (some thoughts came after the club) from the book club for Octavia Butler’s Kindred with moderators Rasheedah Phillips of The Afrofuturist Affair and artist John Jennings.

First, notes from Rasheedah’s presentation, Time, Memory and Agency

*The  mechanics of the the machine: Who is controlling the time machine: Rufus, Dana or some outside third party? Is it an another ancestor or the books? Does Dana have a choice in going back; does she need to save Rufus, her ancestor? Who is more reliant on who to survive? How does the fear of death connect to a want of freedom as a kind of control button for returning from another time? How does Alice’s death figure into the conversation of death and agency?

*The grandfather paradox works on a sense of linear time, but Kindred seems to subvert the idea. Is it creating alternative realities or futures? Is it based on another construction of time, like Foucault’s “heterotopia of time“? How does African diasporic views of time, which tend to be cyclical and terms like sankofa, sasha, and zamani, fir into the discussion of Kindred? How is the book a dialogue between the and and future, recreating the present? Dana seems to influence the past in some ways and the past influences her relationship with Kevin. How does this apply to how we construct memory, whether cultural, personal, ancestral,  or universal. How does Dana and Kevin remember memories from both the 20th century and the 19th century?

*How does the book make us rethink family and ancestry? We are told to honor the ancestors, but not all of our ancestors are honorable. How do we accept all of the people who came together to make us, no matter how painful? Would we save a character like Rufus, even at our own possible non-existence? What does the book reveal about moral relativity, and the complex web of family and slavery? Would we want to go back and change the past? Do we need it to survive as we are or would we want to create another future?

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Cosmic Ghost at the Museum: The Shadows Took Shape Panel Recap

As Afrofuturism becomes more mainstream, sometimes popular conversations about it become also a bit stagnant, which is why I enjoy local conversations about it and hearing people’s personal relationships to it; I tend to learn a lot more. That’s what I got with this week’s panel discussion at the Studio Museum in Harlem with curators Naima J. Keith and Zoe Whitley, and Alondra Nelson and DJ Spooky.

In the discussion Thursday night, we received a polyphony of responses to the cultural importance of Afrofuturism, from those who were new to it and those who have engaged it for years, as well as an expanded view of all the diaspora threads that make up Afrofuturism.

Nelson gave one view of Afrofuturism as putting a context around and providing analytical value to the intersections of black cultures and technology, while Spooky resisted definition of Afrofuturism, seeing it as a collage or mixtape of various voices and possibilities of black culture that can remix the present into the future.

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Cosmic Ghost at the Museum: The Shadows Took Shape Highlights

From "The Shadows Took Shape" book

To the right is the exhibition book from Naima J. Keith and Zoe Whitley curated exhibition, The Shadows Took Shape. It is a nice-looking book with purple pages and reversed alphabetical order of artists, and it’s royally expensive, too ($50), but it looks worth it. Anyway, here are some of the artists and work that I particularly enjoyed:

* Laylah Ali’s Typology series – These were the only black and white, comic-book-like drawings in the exhibition. I thought the juxtaposition between the elaborate, carnivalesque costuming on these human-like people and their abnormal bodily features and positions (missing limbs,  limbs in strange position, attached to others in various methods, probing each other) and their disturbed facial expressions. It is as if the costumes hide something terrible underneath.

*Kira Lynn Harris‘ “Some Blues” – Things are not as they seem. Like funhouse mirrors to distort your perception of yourself and the pieces of wood on the wall.

*Edgar Cleijne and Ellen Gallaghar’s “Nothing Is” – Besides the use of Sun Ra’s Nothing Is lyrics, their video installation would be easy to miss if you didn’t recognize the point of its slow and subtle changes over time. Nothing in the video seems to change at first, and then you have a slight change that changes everything.

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Cosmic Ghost At the Museum: Fore Exhibition

StudioLast weekend, I managed to attend the the Fore exhibition at the Studio Museum of Harlem before it closed. I haven’t gone to the museum in a while, so this was a treat. Fore was the fourth part of a series at the museum (Freestyle, Frequency, Flow), but I like the explanation for the name Fore because, as a writer, I like words, their roots and meanings. I never really thought about the word “fore” until the exhibition, but the word does give a sense of the complexity of time; it can represent something that happened earlier or first (before) but also something that is in front or forward. The two meanings combined imply something ahead of its time but happening at an earlier time; it almost sounds as if time is moving backwards or the future is in the past. Or maybe I’m over-thinking it.

Anyway, the exhibition had some innovative emerging artists who caught my eye and I want to highlight:

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Cosmic Ghost at the Museum: Afrofuturism at MoCADA

Traveling through the “Sankofa Portal:”

Last week, I attended the Afrofuturism exhibition at MoCADA before it closed. This was my first time at the museum and walking in, I did not know what to expect, but afterwards I was greatly impressed. Looking at the artwork, it was easy to forget that these pieces were created by people who are still in grade school. As part of a program in which MoCADA works with schools and students to do an exhibition each year, the art pieces included paintings, collages, photography, and sculpture.  Although all the works were artistically compelling, the ones that stood out to me were the Elemental visual poem and the fable stories by the elementary school students. The visual poem, which was influenced by Dogon religion and mythology, combined photography (regular and multiple exposure) with words of wisdom based on the four elements earth, water, fire and air. These are two of my favorite quotes from the poem:

Earth: Anything you lose comes back around in another form

Air: Clear glass equally mirrors wisdom and madness.

From Elemental visual poem

The second piece I enjoyed was a jungle scene with a variety of wild animals and on the walls were four short stories about an elephant, lion, tiger and frog on Saturn in the year 5072. The part that interested me about these stories is that these were typical fables about animals — how the elephant received its tusks, the tiger its stripes, the lion its roar and the frog its jump — but the set in the future on another planet. In a sense, the idea of a fable became timeless despite the change in setting.

As I discussed with Dr. Sionne Neely from Accra dot Alt, who I met at the exhibition, it is incredible that concepts about afrofuturism are being introduced into schools already and these students are learning about artists like Sun Ra and Afrika Bambaataa as well as mixing elements of art, science and technology to create innovative pieces. We both wished we had this while growing up. After the exhibition, I also picked up a couple of books (being the nerd I am) Diaspora Diaries: An Educator’s Guide to MoCADA Artists and Danny Simmon‘s I Dreamed My People Were Calling But I Couldn’t Find My Way Home.  Below are some more pictures I took before I left:

Cosmic Ghost at the Museum…

Tuesday was my last day of classes, so yesterday I decided to treat myself to a few of exhibitions. First, I went to the American Museum of Natural History to see “Beyond Planet Earth: the Future of Space Exploration.” Upon entering, we saw my favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, speaking in a video about the importance of thinking about space. However, when I entered I was less impressed, given that this exhibition cost me $19. It was not so much that the exhibition was not informing or interesting, it was much more the perspective from which it was told. Basically, a mostly Western and European focus. I kept feeling as I walked through it, what about other cultures who have speculated about and wanted to explore space.

The first section of the exhibition centered on the space war between Russia and the United States. Walking through, we learned about female astronauts like Sally K. Ride, that Russians called astronauts “cosmonauts,” that rocks from space smell like gunpowder inside the spaceship (no smell in space), about businessmen like Jackie Maw, Elon Musk (of Paypal) and Richard Branson who are trying to send private citizens to space, putting bases on the moon and landing on asteroids, and that Mars and Jupiter’s moon Europa could possibly have life on them because they show signs of water. The exhibition included literature that speculated on space like Jules Verne’s “From Earth to the Moon,” and history of people wondering about space. There was even some talk of international space station and global space exploration. However, that focused on China, Japan and India (not much of India).

But what annoyed me the most was all of it was still from a very Eurocentric perspective. It did not mention other cultures and books from other cultures who have thought about space, even before the Greeks or other Europeans started (that was exhibition’s starting point.) Writers of other cultures have written books about space. Including Tyson, space exploration of China, Japan and India, and having an app commercial with a Black girl in it is not diversity. Also, where was the deeper discussion of the larger implications of space travel, since most of the people who would go would be rich (and mostly white), leaving the rest of us here with less resources because they are diverted towards space exploration. I could hear Gil-Scott Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon” in my head.

So, I left the exhibition and went around the museum. I came across the African Peoples section and headed on in. The problem I have with some museums is that it objectifies everything, not just the art, but animals and people as well. While, I did appreciate that this exhibit had a more humane approach to African people and their cultures, included Egypt (although it was in the corner part way in the back), unlike the Metropolitan Museum of Art that treats Egypt as separate from Africa, and included the diaspora and slavery, I was disturbed by something. Throughout the museum, there are exhibits of people from Africa, Asia, Pacific Islands, and indigenous Americans, but I found none of Europeans. So, basically we are still treated like objects and artifacts from the past, not living, breathing people.

This is the reason I decided to go to another exhibition, the Caribbean Cultural Center‘s “H(a)unted,” which was dedicated to Trayvon Martin. The exhibit spoke to me as a human being. As I read artist Zeal Harris‘s information for her piece “Our Brother, Our Sun,” she mentioned that a conceptual conversation on art history is needed. She thinks that too much art lacks substance, soul and concern for issues. And that is how I felt looking at each piece; all of them had a sense of spirit in them that was very much alive. I appreciated the art that challenged perception of Black manhood. The art that spoke to the American fear and constant surveillance of Black men (and Black people in general), the lack of acknowledgement of Black humanity, and the ties between spirituality and physicality for us. The art that highlighted our history that still haunts us despite many telling us to forget about it. It was beautiful how we could stand up despite all the crap we have to stand in and thrown at us. Exhibitions that do this are much more important than an artifact on the wall. We should not only reach for the stars, but keep grounded as well.