Many of you got to hear Sanford Biggers in conversation with fellow artist Wangechi Mutu and critic Greg Tate at this year’s Festival of the New Black Imagination.  At that time, he had two show’s running, one in Queens at the Sculpture Center, and the other at the Brooklyn Museum.

Sanford continues his streak of winning shows with the multidisciplinary The Cartographer’s Conundrum, a series of installations in MASS MoCA’s football field-sized Building 5 that will immerse visitors as they actively become part of a series of optical floor patterns when they move through the space.  All the work in the show is inspired by Sanford’s cousin, Houston, Texas-based artist, scholar and Afrofuturist John Biggers (1924-2001).  Sanford’s goal is to study and expand the emerging genre of Afrofuturism AND illuminate the underrepresented career of this master painter and muralist.

From what we can tell there are three main areas in the exhibit:

  • A series of floor patterns that culminate in an installation of church pews and colored transparent plexiglass that’s 25 feet high
  • A reproduction of John Biggers’s 7 x 21-foot mural Quilting Party.
  • A video, Shake (see the still above), which is, according to the exhibit’s press release, “the second part of Sanford Biggers’s Odyssean trilogy about the formation and dissolution of identity”.

And I like how Afrofuturism is defined.  At the very least, it’s a good starting point

Afrofuturism was a phrase coined in 1995 by cultural critic Mark Dery in is essay Black to the Future, where he links the African American use of science and technology to an examination of space, time, race and culture. In this text Dery defines afrofuturism as: “Speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th century technocluture – and, more generally, African American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future…” The movement began in earnest in the mid-1950s with musician Sun-Ra, whose music blended science-fiction, mysticism, African culture (with a particular focus on Egypt) and jazz fusion, all of which coalesced in his 1972 film Space in the Place. In 1975 George Clinton formed his bands Parliament and Funkadelic, which took Afrofuturism to new often absurdist heights. Today the movement is still strong, encompassing contemporary musicians like Saul Williams, Janelle Monae, OutKast and DJ Spooky along with writers like Paul Beatty, films like The Matrix, Blade and Chronicles of Riddick and visual artists like Sanford Biggers.

The Cartographer’s Conundrum will be up until October 31.

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Rob Fields is the founder and publisher of Bold As Love Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @robfields.

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