Sanford Biggers’s futuristic vision at Mass MoCA
The artist relates his own personal connections to the “afrofuturism” movement in a multi-disciplinary installation
By Erica Cooke. Web only
Published online: 06 February 2012
The ambitious installations of the Los Angeles-born, New York-based artist Sanford Biggers, whose two recent exhibitions in New York City incorporated sculpture, video, photography, music and photographs, have reached an unprecedented height at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA), where he has taken over an entire building to explore an equally ambitious subject: afrofuturism. Coined by the cultural critic Mark Dery in 1995, this movement originated in the mid-1950s when artists, writers and musicians, such as Sun-Ra, began exploring African-American culture through science-fiction, technology, and cosmology.
“Earlier developments of afrofuturism and how it relates to the legacy of the African Diaspora are very prevalent today,” says Denise Markonish, a curator at the museum. “Post-apocalyptic thinking is in the air.” The musicians Outkast and Janelle Monae and writers like Paul Beatty are among her examples.
Sanford Biggers’ multi-disciplinary installation The Cartographer's Conundrum, which opened 4 February, is inspired by the career and beliefs of his cousin, John Biggers (1925-2001), who studied afrofuturism, worked as a mural painter and was one of the first African-American artists to travel to Africa. With a Creative Capital grant, Sanford Biggers duplicated his cousin’s journey in 2008. While not “diaristic”, the installation “feels like a journey in Sanford’s thinking about these influences, especially lineage”, says Markonish. In addition to performative elements, sacred geometric patterns found in afrofuturist imagery are present in several sculptures such as the tiled, break-dancing floor. Markonish says that the exhibition is about a new spirituality where “funk aesthetic meets the church”.
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