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Improvisation in the Arts: A Symposium

Date:December 02, 2014 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm EST
Location:Columbia University
Morningside Campus
Faculty Room, Low Memorial Library
Contact:For further information regarding this event, please contact Columbia University by sending email to or by calling 212-851-9275.

Romare Bearden constantly made the color he constantly looked for. His collages mirrored and enacted what critic Laura Harris calls the aesthetics of black social life, moving against the brutalities of removal and enclosure that structure global black experience and, therefore, the modern world. A Black Odyssey refers, though, not only to Afro-diasporic travel and travail but also to an anoriginary movement of in the art of the West that blackness has come to signify—the polyrhythmic, oral-formulaic, insurgent innovation that was also Homer’s home away from home.

In this panel, a multi-disciplinary group of artists and scholars will sit in with Bearden, gathering with and around his Odyssean practice, his restless, wandering devotion to the scrap, the fragment, the musical moment, and his abiding in and with the imagination, whose enduring philosophical racialization renders it both disposable and appropriable. The intensity of Bearden’s commitment to the aesthetic contact and content of black social life in its broadest dimensions will serve as an impetus for a wide-ranging discussion of the protocols and implications of improvisation in music, literature, theology, cinema, dance and critical theory. Along with Bearden and, most importantly, the audience, the panel hopes to form a new experimental band.

Program Participants:
Fred Moten is author of In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, Hughson’s Tavern, B. Jenkins, The Undercommons Fugitive Planning and Black Study (with Stefano Harney), The Feel Trio and The Little Edges. Moten lives in Los Angeles and teaches at the University of California, Riverside.

John Akomfrah OBE, is a seminal figure in Black British Cinema and forerunner in digital cinematography. He has a body of work that is considered one of the most distinctive and innovative in contemporary Britain. Born in Ghana, to politically active parents he moved to London at an early age. He was a founding figure in the influential cine cultural group Black Audio Film Collective which was dedicated to exploring questions of Black British identity, race and class through film and media. In 1999, he set up Smoking Dogs Films - which simultaneously cohabits the worlds of broadcast, cinema and the arts - with his long term producing partners, David Lawson and Lina Gopaul. John has served on numerous boards as a governor, including the British Film Institute and Film London and has taught at a number of institutions around the world including MIT, Yale and the University of Westminster. John Akomfrah is a director, writer and theorist who creates documentaries, feature films and exhibitions that have garnered international critical acclaim.

J. Kameron Carter  is a professor and teaches courses in both theology and black church studies. Working as a theologian, he addresses the basic areas of Christian thought, especially attending to Christology (the person and work of Jesus Christ) and theological anthropology (the human being in Christian perspective). But in engaging such matters, he does so with a view not just to the church or to Christian believers. He does so with a view to the broader humanities, particularly, with an eye toward such fields as cultural studies, gender studies, and philosophy and literature. His book Race: A Theological Account (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008) has recently appeared. He is presently working on a new book on the ideological uses of Jesus in the modern invention of the human, and thus in the making and sustaining of the present. Addressing this in its religious, secular, and now arguably post-secular forms, Professor Carter calls this the problem of “the cultural Jesus.” The project provides a theological, which at the same time is a cultural, archaeology of the present by getting inside of this problem. But beyond this, and having gotten inside of this problem, Professor Carter reimagines the identity of Jesus and the politics of his identity in light of the new, global realities of the 21st century.

Danielle Goldman In her research, she analyzes the social, cultural, and historical conditions that affect how people move. She is fascinated by critical theories of the body, and  tendd to think about dance as an arena for experimental relations between self and other. These interests are informed by her experience as a dancer – taking class, rehearsing, and performing (most recently for the choreographers DD Dorvillier and Beth Gill). Persistent shuttling between dance practice and academic work – two worlds that she has been trying to bridge for as long as she can remember – has shown her that dance and critical theory inform each other in significant ways, revealing much about embodiment, subjectivity, and notions of identity.

M. NourbeSe Philips is an unembedded poet, essayist, novelist and playwright who lives in the space-time of the City of Toronto. She practiced law in the City of Toronto for seven years before becoming a poet and writer. She has published four books of poetry including the seminal She Tries Her Tongue; Her Silence Softly Breaks, one novel and three collections of essays. Her most recent work is the
conceptually innovative, book-length poem Zong!, which explodes the legal archive as it relates to slavery. Among her awards are numerous Canada Council and Ontario Arts Council grants, as well as the Pushcart Prize (USA, 1981), the Casa de las Americas Prize (Cuba, 1988), the Lawrence Foundation Prize (USA, 1994), and the Arts Foundation of Toronto Writing and Publishing Award (Toronto,1995),  Dora Award finalist (1999). Her fellowships include Guggenheim (1990), McDowell (1991), and Rockefeller (Bellagio) (2005). She has been Writer-in-Residence at several universities.

Matana Roberts  internationally documented and Chicago-born, Matana (m (a)-ta-Nah\) Roberts is a musician, her main instrument is the alto saxophone and she works in many performance/sound mediums including: improvisation, dance, poetry, and theater. She aims to expose the mystical roots and the intuitive spirit-raising traditions of American creative expression in her music. Her innovative work has forged new conceptual approaches to considering narrative, history, and political expression within improvisatory structures. Past member of the BRC: Black Rock Coalition and the AACM: Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. She holds two degrees in music performance. She is based in New York City.

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