At dawn, sit at the feet of action. At noon, be at the hand of might. At eventide, be so big that sky will learn sky.

Alice Coltrane (Swamini Turiyasangitananda)

Today I finally visited SFMOMA and enjoyed a wealth of art therein: there are lots of new and exciting exhibitions, and even the permanent collection, complete with the giant expressionist canvasses and sculpture, is always worth seeing again. My favorite, though, were two astounding videos examining Black liberation featured on the seventh floor, by Theaster Gates and Cauleen Smith respectively.

On the exhibition website, you can see a video of Cauleen Smith discussing her film Sojourner (2018) – or you can watch a preview below:

I found the film haunting. Twelve women with amazing presences–she refers to them as “the Zodiac”–inhabit an apocalyptic landscape. Dressed in regal, colorful outfits, they ceremonially walk the terrain, visiting various structures and holding up banners with quotes from Alice Coltrane (above.) In the background, haunting music plays, accompanied by inspiring texts by revolutionary Black feminists (feminist queer collectives and an antebellum Black shaker community). The texts are incredibly moving, the choice of music lends an eerie-but-hopeful sense to the scene, and the terrain, in Joshua Tree, is stunning and inspiring.

Gates’s Do you hear me calling? Mama Mamama or What Is Black Power? (2018) is very different work. It is a film composed of a wealth of visuals, stills and video, which I now read is aimed at exploring the Black Madonna–but to me, it spoke of the complicated relationship between advancement, capitalism, and consumerism. The film features stunning musical numbers (the flute solos were especially marvelous) and juxtaposes statistical data with dance, fashion photography from Ebony and Jet, and landmark political speeches. It is very rich work, evoking a lot of thought.

What I most appreciated about both films is their expansion of our racial imagination beyond the need to address traumas, examining the long haul and the possibilities for growing and thriving. It seems like our engagement with race, prompted by the events surrounding us, is always engulfed by trauma and by the need to provide immediate remedy to what is wrong (of which there is plenty.) Having a chance to watch works that offer broader horizons, which present Black culture in resplendent, hope-inspiring ways, was heart expanding.

SFMOMA offers timed tickets, which you can buy on their website. The restaurant and café are closed (you can eat a great, vegetable-rich market plate at Lemonade afterwards), but everything else is available and marvelous, including the gorgeous one-way color tunnel. Future Histories shows at SFMOMA until May 23, 2021.

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