Sun Ra’s stanzas are riddles against passive reading.
Smith’s Black Utopia LP forms an Afro-futurist collage of sound and language, rhapsodizing on the utopian possibilities of Black space travel and astrology.
The exhibition is strongest conceptually when the curators focus on the artist collectives that sought a new social and cosmic order through art.
Imaginative, aesthetic, historically fixated, and cosmically liberated, afrofuturism could be subject to low budgets, racism, sexism, and indifference, and still count itself a master of radiant ideas.
The artist known as Sun Ra would have turned 100 years old today. In death, as in life, the man born Herman Poole Blount on May 22nd, 1914 is a forceful enigma, an influence on more than a generation of musicians, thinkers, and artists.
“You know, Sun Ra is a formative figure for many young artists,” Georg Schöllhammer, Vienna director of the curatorial collective Tranzit, avowed to me recently on the fifth floor of the New Museum.
One part a literary subgenre of sci-fi, pioneered by the likes of Samuel R. Delany and Octavia E. Butler, and one part cross-cultural, interdisciplinary aesthetic movement, Afrofuturism — a term coined by cultural critic Mark Dery in his 1994 essay “Black to the Future”— can be tricky to describe.
When you walk into the main gallery of the Studio Museum in Harlem’s current exhibition The Shadows Took Shape, which explores contemporary art through the lens of Afrofuturist aesthetics, one of the first pieces to catch the eye is a glittering procession of black astronauts fanned across a faded landscape.