NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 16.2: Fall 2016 - Page 54

It was a ‘ thing ’ of beauty , a rarified quality that eludes ordinary things and persons without an aesthetic process that is like poetry , a distillation of excess , to invoke the power of God . We would call the theatrical style Kuntu Drama , which Jackson elucidated in the preface to my anthology , Kuntu Drama : Plays of the African Continuum : “ Kuntu Drama is ( theatre ) that has , as its ultimate purpose , to reveal and invoke the reality of the particular mode it has ritualized . The theater style depends on power and power invocation . It is magical in that it attempts to produce modification in behavior , through a combined use of word power , dance , and music power . It is sacred theater in the sense that it seeks to fulfill a spiritual revelation . The play is the ritualized context of reality . The ritual confirms the mode : it is a living incantation that focuses and releases … ( through invocation )… beneficent power for the audience … Kuntu drama is testimonial .”
In the final analysis , then , Art is the great leavening of the spirit that reveals the imaginarium of human aspiration . While the aspirations may be universal , its aesthetics are unique to the specifics of culture that make cultural production intelligible . At the core of my ritual pursuit for the power of beauty , I am channeling the spirit of my pop-composer aunt , Gladyce de Jesus , my inventive muses , Thelonius Monk and Sun Ra , and my inestimable music collaborator , Julius Hemphill , for a theatrical mode that opens a path toward revelations .
In 2010 , my papers were acquired and archived by the Rose marbl special collection at Emory University . Pursuant to receiving the gift , its Research Curator , Randall Burkett , urged the formation of a Study Group of outstanding scholars at Emory University , including Michael Harris ( Art and African American Studies ), Thee Smith ( Theology ), Dwight Andrews ( Music ), Dianne Smith ( Religion ), Candy Tate ( Center for Creative Arts ), and Pellom McDaniels ( marbl curator ), to engage in discussions around how Black Aesthetics relates and responds to the social and expressive practices of the African Diaspora . We met informally twice a year , occasionally inviting scholars from off-campus to our sessions , prior to convening an neh supported Summer Institute for College and University Teachers in 2014 at Emory , under the rubric of Black Aesthetics and African Centered Expressions : Sacred Systems in the Nexus between Cultural Studies , Religion , and Philosophy . It was a scintillating three week involvement with 25 academic and independent scholars , allowing the opportunity for a robust interaction with celebrated interdisciplinary specialists in the discourse , including Robert Farris Thompson , Carrie Mae Weems , and Babatunde Lawal to interrogate the meaning of Black Art and investigate the African cultural continuities that filter into the expressive practices of the African Diaspora , as a byproduct of humanistic impulses .
We , the members of the Africana Aesthetics Project at Emory — which now includes the welcomed input of a Caribbean specialist , Noel Erskin ( Theology ) and a Central American literature specialist , Mark Sanders ( African American Studies and English ) — have shifted our focus away from the appellation of Black Aesthetics , in order to elude the tropes associated with race in favor of a global discourse , as we cross the juncture where it is paramount that our inquiry coalesce around a more precise and coherent interdisciplinary dialogue with the Humanities disciplines of Religion , Art , History , Language , Philosophy , Music , and Social Organization , so as to buttress the discourse of aesthetics with its rootedness in the social practices throughout the Diaspora . With the latter in mind , our future gatherings hope to attract scholars from the Humanities to contribute from their unique perspectives to the issues of the discourse to elicit a more concise elaboration and extrapolation within specific sites of Diasporic practice . n
Presented for the Africana Aesthetics Project at Emory University
17 May 2016