Past Event

Traveling the Spaceways: The Astro Black and Other Solar Myths

***Featured in Crain’s10 Things To Do This Weekend“***

The subject of Afrofuturism has grown in popularity among the academic community over the past decade. Any study of the topic recognizes Sun Ra as one of the prime originators of Afrofuturism.

The Hyde Park Art Center presents Traveling the Spaceways, a landmark symposium devoted to the musical legend Sun Ra. Informative panel discussions, musical performances, and readings will investigate the impact Sun Ra and Afro-Futurism have had on American history and visual culture. Bringing together contemporary artists, major writers, and scholars who have focused on this prophetic jazz band leader, composer, pianist, and self-proclaimed extraterrestrial, this free event will enlighten and intrigue those interested in African American art and music of the postwar period.

In addition, the treasure trove of material on view through January 14, 2007 in the Hyde Park Art Center exhibitions motivates an international critical discussion linking contemporary cultural production to the transparent ideas in Sun Ra’s body of work. These exhibitions include: Pathways to Unkown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn and Chicago’s Afro-Futurist Underground 1954-68 in Gallery 4 from October 1, 2006 – January 14, 2007; Interstellar Low Ways in Galleries 1 & 3 from October 15, 2006 – January 14 2007; and Le Conqueroo: Part 3. Defeat! Thus the Magpie, Rider of Leviathan, Herald of Saturn – the 9 choirs in Galleries 2 & 3 from October 15, 2006 – December 17, 2006.

This Symposium is a collaboration between the University of Chicago and the Hyde Park Art Center. It is co-organized by Travis Jackson, the Associate Professor of Music and Music and the Humanities at the University of Chicago, Allison Peters, Director of Exhibitions at the Hyde Park Art Center, and the curators Anthony Elms, John Corbett and Terri Kapsalis. It is funded in part by the Terra Foundation of American Art and the Illinois Humanities Council.


Sunday, November 12th

  • 10:00 am: Reading – Cheryl Lynn Bruce performs from Sun Ra’s broadsides
  • 10:30 am: Panel Discusion – Aesthetics of Black Postwar Chicago:

    An air of unrelenting independence characterized El Saturn Records (Sun Ra’s recording label) in the late 1950’s; Ra and his business partner Alton Abraham maintained a sense of defiance, a quality of stark separatism and a harrowingly singular vision. Sun Ra made little distinction between the individual person and his art, fashion, and music – it all articulated an identity. This panel examines the visual manifestation of Sun Ra’s philosophy and how graphics and design were essential in presenting a particular message encouraging self-determination. Panelists: John Corbett, writer, curator and independent music critic; Victor Margolin, University of Illinois at Chicago, Professor of Art and Design History, author of African-American Designers: The Chicago Experience Then and Now Kerry James Marshall, artist and Professor of Painting at the University of Illinois atChicago; and a writer and art historian to be named.
  • 12:15 pm: Break
  • 12:30 pm: Musical Performance – Saxophonist Ken Vandermark and his ensemble perform Ra compositions
  • 1:00 pm: Lunch
  • 2:00 pm: Musical Performance – Flautist Nicole Mitchell performs with her group
  • 2:30 pm: Panel Discussion – The Sun Ra Diaspora: Art After Ra:

    Sun Ra’s aesthetics and philosophy have had significant, but under-acknowledged, influence on American culture since the 1950s, and in some respects the art world has only recently caught up with a way of thinking that he developed at that time. Openness to new technologies and experimentation, a sense that personal identity is as much a construct as a given, and a playful attitude towards history and the pleasures of myth-making are all contemporary preoccupations that Ra pioneered half a century ago. Panelists: Huey Copeland, Professor of Art History at Northwestern University; Anthony Elms, artist, editor of WhiteWalls, and Assistant Director of Gallery 400, University of Illinois, Chicago; Malik Gaines, co-editor of ARTUS, independent curator and Distinguished Critic in Residence at Otis College; and Glenn Ligon, artist (NY).
  • 4:00 pm: Reading – Cheryl Lynn Bruce performs from Sun Ra’s broadsides
  • 4:30 pm: Coda – Tour with the Curators

    John Corbett, Anthony Elms, and Terri Kapsalis offer a guided tour of the exhibition, Pathways to Unknown Worlds

Saturday, November 11th

  • 10:00 am: Reading – Cheryl Lynn Bruce performs from Sun Ra’s broadsides
  • 10:30 am: Panel Discussion – The Right Place and Right Time:

    Why did Sun Ra’s nascent Afro-Futurism arise in Chicago in the 1950s? In order to understand the circumstances in which Ra’s work emerged – namely South-Side Black Chicago of the mid-twentieth century – several cultural critics will discuss the period, the music, the ideas, and their cultural and social context, with special attention to Ra’s place in jazz history. Invited speakers include: Robert Campbell, Professor of Developmental and Cognitive Psychology at Clemson University, author of the discography, The Earthy Recordings of Sun Ra (1994), and webmaster for the Red Saunders Research Foundation; Graham Lock, Research Fellow in American Music at the University of Nottingham (UK) and author of several books, including Blutopia: Visions of the Future and Revisions of the Past in the Work of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington and Anthony Braxton (1999); Kevin Whitehead, jazz critic for NPR and lecturer in American Studies at the University of Kansas.
  • 12:15 pm: Break
  • 12:30 pm: Musical Performance – Cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm performs music by Sun Ra with his trio
  • 1:00 pm: Lunch
  • 2:00 pm: Musical Performance – Performance by David Boykin’s Expanse, including “The Solar Suite,” dedicated to Sun Ra
  • 2:30 pm: Panel Discussion – Heading Out:

    Sun Ra expressed a deep belief that music, art, writing, dance, and pageantry can change the way people think and act – that culture can literally remake the world. This group of contemporary cultural producers will discuss the philosophical and spiritual dimensions of Sun Ra’s work, with attention to the ways that artists explore such notions as time and (outer) space through invention and composition. Speakers on the panel include: Nick Cave, artist and Assistant Professor of Fashion Design at the School of the Art Institute; Terri Kapsalis, writer, curator and Interim Chair of Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute; John Szwed, John M. Musser Professor of Anthropology, African American Studies, Music and American Studies at Yale University and author of Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (1997); and Hamza Walker, Director of Education, Renaissance Society.
  • 4:00 pm: Reading – Cheryl Lynn Bruce performs from Sun Ra’s broadsides

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