LEWISBURG - Bucknell University's Samek Art Gallery, 701 Moore Ave., will begin the spring season Jan. 21 with "Afrotechtopia," an exploration of black sci-fi and fantasy culture and "how it's represented in art, music, film, literature, comic books ... and just generally how black experience influences visions of the future," according to Greg Stuart, public programs and outreach manager for the gallery. The exhibit will continue through March 21.
The exhibit will allow visitors to experience "Afrotechtopia" through multiple media avenues.
"We're going to have a reading room, we're going to have a listening station, and we're going to have an area where we project film," Stuart said.
Artists Keith (left)and Mendi Obadike will feature two sound pieces in Bucknell’s “Afrotechtopia” exhibit. The couple’s work will be included in a listening station. Also included in the exhibit will be a reading room and a room in which films are projected.
Pictured is a photo submitted to the Obadikes for their sound piece, “Cut/Fade,” which translates photos of traditional black hairstyles into sound. The couple used their Facebook page to crowd-source photos for the project.
Among the artists whose work will be featured in the exhibit are Mendi and Keith Obadike, a couple who create music, art and literature together. The couple made waves in 2001 when they auctioned off Keith's "blackness" on eBay, and they make regular use of the Internet as a medium for art.
"We've been working online for the past 17 years," the Obadikes said in an email interview. "Many of our early projects were made for the Internet exclusively, during a time when art critics and historians were concerned about how this new landscape would affect aesthetics ... For us the speed of online discourse makes it an exciting place to work."
Richard Rinehart, gallery director, said this emphasis on the use of technology makes the Obadikes' work a great fit for "Afrotechtopia": "The Obadikes often make art out of new media and new technologies and technology is often a lens through which we envision the future - in that technology will contribute significantly to making the future either better ('Star Trek') or worse ('Terminator.') Of course, the Obadikes' work is not 'about' technology in the same way that the future is not 'about' technology - rather, it's (partly) about how we choose to use technology, and new media artists working today are among those in society who, through their creations, are critiquing, commenting on and modeling alternate uses for the new technologies that will help shape our future."
Both works the Obadikes will display are described as "sound pieces."
"For us terms like sound art or sound piece means that sound is the central (but not always exclusive) element in the work," the couple explained. "We have two new works in the show at the Samek, 'ALBEDO' and 'Cut/Fade.' 'ALBEDO' can be thought of as a narrative told through sound. You might compare this work to a short film, while our other piece, 'Cut/Fade,' uses sound in a sculptural manner."
"ALBEDO" is a four-channel sound piece (meaning it will project from four different areas of the room) commissioned by the American Studies Association in honor of Angela Davis.
" 'ALBEDO' concerns the long view of Angela Davis' work, which includes complicating the vision of the freedom struggle by attending to the various and shifting obstacles to freedom, as well as to the human capacity for understanding and reflection," the Obadikes said.
"Cut/Fade," meanwhile, focuses on black hairstyles: "With Cut/Fade we took photos of hairstyles like spiraling cornrows and translated those into sound. Obviously we are dealing with the sculptural aspects of hair, but we are also thinking about people's ability to 'edit' the body through a hairstyle like one would edit a film or media work. Inspired partly by our previous projects where we've looked at DNA or phenotype, with this work we are interested thinking about the ways one might do 'post-production' work on the body," the Obadikes said.
While these two works may not fit into the stereotypical sci-fi or fantasy mold, Rinehart said they express visions of the future that are in keeping with the theme of the exhibit.
"Their work asserts that the future is not a culturally empty, perfect void to be filled with technology, but that the future - our collective imaginary - is a place where the dreams and the imperatives of today must be engaged," he said.
Other artists whose will work will be featured in the exhibit include Vanessa German, a Pittsburgh-based photographer, poet, actress, sculptor, designer and educator; and John Jennings, a graphic designer and graphic artist. Music from jazz composer and musician Sun Ra - who claimed he was from Saturn - and Parliament Funkadelic will help set the mood.
The show will wrap up March 20 with an "Afrofuturist affair"-themed gala hosted by Rasheeda Phillips, a lawyer and part-time sci-fi author based in Philadelphia whose Afrofuturistic parties serve a dual role as fundraisers for under-served communities.
While an exhibit based on sci-fi and fantasy themes may not appear to hold immediate relevancy, the Obadikes hope visitors to "Afrotechtopia" will use the exhibit to challenge themselves: "We hope for our audiences what we continue to hope for ourselves - that our experience with art can help us engage the world in more thoughtful and productive ways," they said.
Samek Art Gallery is open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Exhibitions are free and open to the public.