On Tuesday October 30, 2018, Joseph Gallivan interviews Bethlehem Daniel and Mia O’Connor-Smith of open mike night Deep Underground, who discuss Monuments, their show about Sun Ra and his Arkestra. They talk about the reproduction costumes and hand-drawn record sleeves in the show, as well as the photographs and hour-long video. The show is the fifth and final part of We.Construct.Marvels.Between.Monuments. which is designed to bring a more diverse audience to the museum.
FROM THE PRESS RELEASE
October 26, 2018 – January 27, 2019
The Earth Expedition of Sun Ra
In the final project of the year-long series We.Construct.Marvels.Between.Monuments., artistic director Libby Werbel partners with Deep Underground (Bethlehem Daniel, Madenna Ibrahim, Mia O’Connor-Smith, and Janessa Narciso) to present MONUMENTS. The Earth Expedition of Sun Ra ―a multimedia presentation of film, music, and art by Afrofuturist artist, musician, and philosopher Sun Ra (active on earth 1934 – 1993). As the critical conversation develops around the removal of public monuments across the American landscape, we ask ourselves: what are the new monuments we wish to build? Who are the artists, thinkers, and heroes we wish to exalt and preserve for future generations? MONUMENTS. upholds Sun Ra as one of these visionary figures.
Sun Ra was a jazz composer, musician, bandleader, teacher, and poet who became known for his theatrical performances and personal mythology: his name references the Egyptian sun god, Ra, and his origin story proclaimed that he had come to Earth from Saturn. Sun Ra has been considered the pioneer of Afrofuturism, a school of thinking that utilizes science fiction, music, art, and political theory to propose a thriving destiny for black people. From the mid-1950s on, he led a musical ensemble best known as The Arkestra. They were infamous for their avant garde jazz compositions, dances, and clothing inspired by ancient Egypt and the space age. Sun Ra and The Arkestra collectively lived their lives dedicated to preaching peace and promoting enlightenment through their music, art, and film.
The exhibition and accompanying performances highlight Sun Ra’s idea of an “altered destiny,” a utopian belief that a more meaningful and just world awaits humanity in Outer Space. To Sun Ra, Outer Space was not an escapist fantasy―it was a place where society, culture, and beliefs are reimagined to give power to the oppressed. Sun Ra’s message still resonates with many people, including Portland’s Deep Underground community, who have embraced his philosophy and see his art as a hopeful vision that offers significant pathways for black and brown identity.
Sun Ra and his collaborators left a comprehensive archive including 130 albums, countless books and broadsheets of poetry, posters, paintings, photographs, and performance attire. The exhibition includes artifacts on loan from the University of Chicago’s Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra Archive, with supplemental support from private collectors and music enthusiasts. Regional artists, fabricators, and designers have contributed to the exhibition design to help bring Sun Ra’s world to life for PAM visitors.
Organized by a cosmic kin of four women, Deep Underground (DUG) was originally founded in 2015 as an open mic project dedicated to instilling a sense of safety and freedom within Portland’s underrecognized black and brown community. Their work began in a 100-year old NE Portland home, creating intentional space to empower unsung people. Their open-mic sessions often end with discourse or reflection on themes of the times such as: Revolution, Vices, Love, Addiction, Human/Civil Rights, and Death. By creating a space to talk about revolution, these women have started their own. Since their genesis, DUG has gone on to throw large-scale events, in-depth youth programming, film screenings, concerts, and multimedia performances. The collective recently addressed city hall with the hopes of providing insight into the needs of black and brown artist communities. Their foundation is rooted in much of the same work Sun Ra was doing over 50 years ago; it is in that spirit they have been invited to lend their perspective and curatorial vision to the exhibition representing this afro-cosmic hero.
Guest artistic director and exhibition co-curator Libby Werbel points to the current debate regarding the removal of dated monuments as a motivation for this show. “Historian Carl Becker once stated: ‘History is what the present chooses to remember about the past.’ It might also be noted that history is recorded and preserved differently depending on the recorder or preserver, based on their value systems, power structures, and instinct to imprint their likeness into the role of the hero. In the case of confederate statues, it is understood widely now that they were all erected (as late as the 1950s) as tools against equalization or integration for people of color. As we reflect on what it means to take these monuments down, and own our own historical legacy in regards to systemic oppression- it might also be wise to broaden our gaze. What are other ‘monuments’ that exist as tools of oppression- those which continue to do the work of the men who built them in their own image? What other statues, institutions, systems, or laws need to be re-evaluated under this lense? If we could start erecting new monuments, who would they be too, and who would they be for? How can we create new markers of historical value- new systems that are meant to record and preserve a myriad of narratives? This exhibition is a retrospective of the artist, musician, and radical thinker Sun Ra who worked his whole life to create opportunity and broaden the minds of the people he affected. His contributions to black identity and destiny are in themselves, monumental.”
We. Construct. Marvels. Between. Monuments.
NOV 17, 2017 – JAN 27, 2019
The Portland Art Museum welcomes a dynamic, artist-led experiment that will transform the fourth floor of the Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art through December 2018. We.Construct.Marvels.Between.Monuments. is a series of five exhibitions developed in partnership with artists and art collectives that will activate the gallery with visual art, performance, screenings, and discussions. Organized by visiting artistic director Libby Werbel, the programming invites a range of emerging and established voices to ask questions about how the Museum can become more artist-centered and inclusive in its practices and become more critically engaged with a broader array of emerging and established artists in the region. We.Construct.Marvels.Between.Monuments. is a unique collaboration between the Museum’s curatorial and education departments with support provided by Sara Krajewski, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Grace Kook-Anderson, Curator of Northwest Art, and Stephanie Parrish, Associate Director of Education.
The programming intends to build a bridge between Portland’s independent artist-run spaces, activists, and the city’s established institution. Through this year-long program, Werbel encourages audiences to reflect on how museums historically have granted access to art and knowledge, and what the future of this institution could look like. She imagines the string of exhibitions as a sort of ‘museum alchemy.’ Each artist or collective is tasked with contributing their own ingredients to the pot, acting as a catalyst for engaging new perspectives. Artists Chris Johanson and Johanna Jackson have created an exhibition design to serve as both a physical and conceptual framework for the ongoing exhibitions and events. They will make over the white-walled gallery environment to more comfortably house the various projects by introducing sculptural furniture, a reading/seminar space, live plants, a stage, and a wayfinding mural through the Center for Modern and Contemporary Art.
Public programs for We.Contsruct.Marvels.Between.Monuments. presented in partnership with c3:initiative.
We.Construct.Marvels.Between.Monuments is funded in part by the Miller Meigs Endowment for Contemporary Art and the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Endowments for Northwest Art.
We.Construct.Marvels.Between.Monuments. is organized by visiting artistic director Libby Werbel in collaboration with the Museum’s curatorial and education departments. Funding is provided in part by the Miller Meigs Endowment for Contemporary Art, The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Endowments for Northwest Art, and the Artist & Participatory Programs Fund of the Education Department. Public programs presented in partnership with c3:initiative. MONUMENTS. was made possible through additional support and sponsorship from Portland Garment Factory, Nike’s Blue Ribbon Studio, Form.xyz Foundry, and KMHD Jazz Radio. With generous consultation from Eric Isaacson at Mississippi Records.