AstroSankofa

Explore Afrofuturist artist Quentin VerCetty’s AstroSankofa, a signature work commissioned by Carnegie Hall to represent its Afrofuturism festival.

By Carnegie Hall

"What I would hope for the audience to understand is that Afrofuturism is an exciting, multifaceted experience that’s for everyone to contribute to and participate in."

—Quentin VerCetty

About AstroSankofa

VerCetty’s AstroSankofa, with its myriad references to the kaleidoscopic Afrofuturist world, embraces the essence of Carnegie Hall's Afrofuturism festival (2022).

AstroSankofa explores different historical iconographies of legendary Afrofuturists who have shared their sonic frequency at Carnegie Hall. Recognizing Afrofuturism as a feminist praxis—as stated by Ytasha L. Womack, Alondra Nelson, Camille Turner, and Nalo Hopkinson, among others—VerCetty wanted to depict an iconic memorial of Black women that embodies the continuity of resilience and the evolution of Blackness that Afrofuturism facilitates space for in its multidimensional manifestations.

Quentin VerCetty's AstroSankofa (2021) by Quentin VerCettyCarnegie Hall

The foundation of the piece is a facial reference to the great and under-celebrated African American soprano Sissieretta Jones (ca. 1868–1933), the first person of African descent to headline at Carnegie Hall.

Sissieretta Jones often wore a collection of medals pinned to her bodice that were gifted to her by fans and government officials during her many singing tours.

She spoke of her struggle and pursuit to build herself up as a singer: “We come through the furnaces of affliction and persecution and become as gold, tried in the fire. As the crushed rose emits the sweetest perfume, so the Negro, bruised and beaten, sings the sweetest songs.”

This sentiment made VerCetty think of Sankofa bird symbolism and how the Black African diasporic experience is like that of a rising phoenix. The raised arms are in homage to the great Queen of Saturn, June Tyson—the songbird, high priestess, and voice of the Sun Ra Arkestra.

The clothing below Jones’s medals refers to the outfits worn by the group Labelle, comprising of Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash. They wore glam, space-age costumes, and their funk and glam rock hits included “Lady Marmalade.”

The headdress worn by the Afrofutrist figure is the Kemetic-inspired headdress of Sun Ra, an American jazz composer, bandleader, piano, and synthesizer player.

The orb of the headdress contains the original kente cloth pattern of the Akan Queen Mother, representing knowledge and strength.

This arm band references jewelry worn by Malian singer, songwriter, and actress Fatoumata Diawara, who performs at Carnegie Hall in March 2022.

According to Vercetty: "The work features an assemblage of elements that are meant to speak to how Black folks globally have used the arts to empower, enlighten, and project towards brighter futures."

Quentin VerCetty's AstroSankofa (2021) by Quentin VerCettyCarnegie Hall

This eyewear is a fusion of Geordi La Forge’s Star Trek visor and Kenyan Afrofuturist artist Cyrus Kabiru’s aesthetic.

The stacked necklaces reference those worn by the Dora Milaje women in Marvel’s Black Panther, while the necklace below them represents that worn by T’Chaka, Marvel’s original Black Panther.

The right, golden side of the figure (from the viewer's perspective) wears an adaptation of the armor worn by Marvel’s Falcon.

The wings are from the Earth, Wind & Fire’s logo, which was inspired by the Kemetic (Egyptian) goddess Isis.

The astronaut glove and spacesuit are in honor of Mae Jemison, an American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut who was the first Black woman to travel into space when she served as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Crystal quartz (the largest deposits found in South Africa) are positioned around the base of the torso to symbolize healing and natural power as a metaphor for Blackness.

The figure rests on Carnegie Hall‘s building exterior, emerging from the roof.

The background references the architecture of Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage.

Quentin VerCetty (2020) by OdileCarnegie Hall

About the Artist

Quentin VerCetty is a multiple award–winning multidisciplinary storyteller, educator, and Afrofuturist. A self-described visual griot, “artpreneur,” educator, “artivist,” and “ever-growing interstellar tree,” he is one of the world’s leading Afrofuturist artists.

VerCetty is the first-ever visual artist commissioned by Carnegie Hall to create a signature work of art to represent one of the Hall’s festivals.

Credits: Story

Written by Quentin VerCetty for Carnegie Hall.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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