Who: Sanford Biggers, RoseLee Goldberg
What: Talk and screening surrounding The Somethin’ Suite
Where: Performa Instagram Live and Performa website
When: Talk: Friday, June 19, free, noon; screening: June 18 & 19, free, 7:00
Why: In honor of Juneteenth, the anniversary of the end of the Civil War and slavery, Performa chief curator RoseLee Goldberg will discuss art, politics, systemic racism, and more with New York City-based multidisciplinary artist Sanford Biggers. The talk will take place on Instagram Live at noon, in conjunction with screenings on June 18 and 19 of Biggers’s 2007 Performa commission, The Somethin’ Suite, what he called “a post minstrel cycle” and “a darke xperiment.” The twenty-five-minute performance, held at the Box, featured Martin Luther, Saul Williams, Esthero, Shae Fiol, Imani Uzuri, DJ Dahi Sundance, CX KidTRONiK, and Freedome Bradley as a wide range of characters staging a minstrel show, using spoken word, song, music, dance, and film to bring to stark light historical aspects of racism.
In a 2007 interview, Biggers, who was raised in Los Angeles, told Goldberg, “The whole institution of our popular cultural media, which started with minstrel shows and has now become the hip hop music industry — one of the most lucrative entertainment industries worldwide — originated with making a mockery of blacks. So I’m interested in how much and how little has changed in these last 150 years. We’re at a crucial moment in race relations in America right now, with a lot of old wounds being reopened and reexamined. With the ‘PC’ ethos of the ’90s having passed, and a black man being seriously considered for the US presidency, we cannot afford to not develop a more sophisticated understanding of ‘race’ and ‘otherness.’ So I thought it was a perfect time to really look at the history of how we’ve been imagining ourselves, as African Americans, how white people have projected their stereotypes onto us, and how we’ve reflected their obsession by projecting some of those stereotypes back, because neither party is solely guilty — there’s a complicity.” Given what is happening right now in America, from George Floyd to Aunt Jemima, this program could not be any more timely.