Afrofuturism takes center stage in the Institute of the Arts and Sciences’ Surge series

Men and women dancing on a stage
GERALDCASELDANCE performs Not About Race Dance May 8 as part of Surge

This May, UC Santa Cruz’s Institute of the Arts and Sciences offers a month-long series of performances and discussions on Afrofuturism, a global artistic and social movement, utilizing the arts, science, and technology to imagine—and create— a world where African-descended peoples and cultures can live and flourish. Surge: Explorations in Afrofuturism is spearheaded by a trio of UCSC-affiliated artists: composer/performer Karlton Hester, choreographer Gerald Casel, and artist Aaron Samuel Mulenga. 

The program of multidimensional and transcultural music and dance performances, film screenings, and discussions, brings together artists and thinkers to creatively engage and foster the growing Afrofuturist movement for liberation and the restructuring of society free of racism.

Says Hester, who is a UCSC Professor of Music, the Director of the Digital Arts and New Media MFA Program, and Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion for the Arts Division, “There is a kind of ‘surge’ taking place in society to which our programming responds. People are increasingly focused on how to heal and transform society, and promote racial justice. By organizing a festival drawing on global Afrofuturist traditions of cultural resistance (and resilience), as conceptualized in the 1950s by cosmic philosopher and jazz giant Sun Ra, we aim to highlight how this intellectual and creative genealogy can help us build a better future for Black people and for all people.”

Hester gathers his jazz ensemble Hesterian Musicism to kick off the Surge series May 6 with a dynamic, live performance featuring guest performers Yunxiang Gao, Bill Johnson, Mandjou Kone, Eki'Shola, David Smith, and Siwen Zhao.

A special performance on May 8 organized by Casel, UCSC Associate Professor of Dance and Director of Graduate Studies in Performance, Play & Design, features GERALDCASELDANCE and an all-BIPOC dance ensemble. Not About Race Dance is a collaborative, choreographic response to the unacknowledged racial politics in U.S. postmodern dance. 

An online conversation on the histories and futures of African arts, culture, and movements for liberation takes place on May 9 with curator and scholar Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi and writer and founding editor of Chimurenga magazine, Ntone Edjabe. That same evening, in an original Afrofuturism Hindustani collaboration, there is a live music performance with Indian sitar player Nishat Khan and American jazz saxophonist and composer David Murray. 

World renowned Pamela Z will be in concert at the Rio Theatre in downtown Santa Cruz on May 14. Pamela Z is a composer/performer and media artist working with voice, live electronic processing, sampled sound, and video. A pioneer of live digital looping techniques, she processes her voice in real time to create dense, complex sonic layers. Her solo works combine experimental extended vocal techniques, operatic bel canto, found objects, text, and sampled concrete sounds.

Searching for Freedom with the Afronauts is an online conversation May 16 with artists and filmmakers Larry Achiampong, Nuotama Frances Bodomo, and Aaron Samuel Mulenga, one of the organizers and a PhD student in visual studies at UCSC. Inspired by Edward Makuka Nkoloso’s efforts to establish a Zambian Space Program in the 1960s, the three artists will talk about how imaginings of space travel are utilized in their disparate practices and about the politics and possibilities they find in the creative transcendence of space and time.

On May 22, the series features a dance performance and film screening with Raissa Simpson, director of PUSH Dance Company, and Maurya Kerr, artistic director of tinypistol. Simpson will perform an excerpt of EMME YA: Expedition, which applies a conceptual underpinning of Afro-technoculture through movement and media. Kerr will be sharing Saint Leroi, a short film about a Black avenging angel come down from on high.

Surge ends with an evening of dance May 28 by queer Black choreographic duo OYSTERKNIFE (Chibueze Crouch + Gabriele Christian). OYSTERKNIFE will perform the final work in their triptych, m | ou | f, a meditation on hypervisibility, opacity, sexuality, and the desire of and for queer(ed) Black stars. Using drag, ritual masquerade, original music, video, and choreography, OYSTERKNIFE opens a portal to an era of voices which carved a route for their queer Afro-now and beyond. 

Most programs are free, and all are open to the public. A full schedule with more information and registration information is available here.