|Location:||Sanders Theatre, Harvard University|
|Address:||45 Quincy St - 02138 Cambridge, MA|
Sanford Biggers was commissioned to create a temporary public artwork as the Marshall S. Cogan Visiting Artist in the Public Art Program. His new work, on view November 6 – December 2, 2009, was a fusion of meditative, historical, and contemporary concerns. Fascinated by the coded geometries by which we communicate, Biggers found the architectural landmark Memorial Hall—with its stained glass windows and hints of Masonic geometry—to be a compelling site for Constellation (Stranger Fruit). The installation drew on sources of inspiration ranging from Japanese cherry blossom festivals to Afrofuturist aesthetics. It also tapped into local African-American history, evoking the stars that directed escaped slaves along the Underground Railroad to Boston and other northern destinations in 19th century America. A prominently placed quilt recalled the coded messages in textile patterns believed to have assisted slaves in navigating the path to freedom. The work included a performance on site—with vocalist Imani Uzuri, members of Harvard’s a cappella group KeyChange, and instrumentalist Sumie Kaneko—offering an imaginative mash up of Sufi poetry, Sun Ra, and black spirituals.
Through conceptual works that fuse diverse cultural sensibilities and symbols, Biggers explores the similarities underlying ostensibly disparate cultural expressions. Incorporating icons and rites ranging from mandalas and slave quilts to hip hop and YouTube music culture, the artist’s works connect African spiritualism, Buddhist rituals, and African-American urban culture. At the same time, Biggers investigates history, race relations, and the socio-political environment. His works suggest that we transcend divisive social realities through the interconnectedness inherent in our shared affinity for the symbolic and the spiritual.