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Performa Institute: Get Ready for the Marvelous



Friday, February 8th, 1:00-5:30 p.m.
Saturday, February 9th, 1:00-5:30 p.m.

Special Breakfast Film Program
Saturday, February 9th, 10:00 a.m. - Noon

NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development
Einstein Auditorium, Barney Building, 34 Stuyvesant Street [map]

Free adminission with reservations, email RSVP@performa-arts.org
Indicate the dates you will attend with your reservation. Seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Performa Institute and NYU Steinhardt are pleased to present Get Ready for the Marvelous: Black Surrealism in Dakar, Fort de France, Havana, Johannesburg, New York City, Paris, Port au Prince, 1932-2013, a groundbreaking conference exploring historical Surrealism in the African Diaspora and its relevance to contemporary art.  The conference is a platform to elaborate on the group of international black artists who were directly or tangentially involved in Surrealism, engaging with it as an ideology, artistic movement, and a state of mind—a way of being in the world—and their influence on contemporary art and culture throughout the African Diaspora. 

The context-setting keynote address entitled "Blues People and the Poetic Sprit: Recovering Surrealism's Revolutionary Politics" will be given by Robin D.G. Kelley, Gary B. Nash Professor of American History, University of California Lost Angeles, and co-editor of Black, Brown, and Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora with Franklin Rosemont. Participants include Awam Ampka, Associate Professor, Africana Studies in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University; Isolde Brielmaier, Chief Curator, Savannah College of Art and Design; Barbara Browning, Associate Professor, Performance Studies, New York University; artist Simone Leigh; Gabi Ngcobo, Curator and Founder, Center for Historical Reenactments, Johannesburg; Tavia Nyong’o, Associate Professor, Performance Studies, New York University; artist Paul D. Miller a.k.a. ‘DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid’; artist Wangechi Mutu; artist Adam Pendleton; Lowery Stokes Sims, Curator, Museum of Art and Design; and Greg Tate, Visiting Professor of Africana Studies, Brown University, musician with the Black Rock Coalition and Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber, cultural critic, and record producer.

The two-day convening will traverse a medley of dynamic interrelated themes, including the art of Wifredo Lam; the poetics and politics of Negritude poets Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor; the intersection of dance and ethnography in the work of Maya Deren and Katherine Dunham; theater and politics during the period of decolonization in West Africa; Afro-Futurism and black science fiction; élan vital and black performance; and contemporary art-making and curatorial approaches to Black Surrealism. Adam Pendleton will present a new performance piece, inspired by and in honor of award-winning playwright Adrienne Kennedy. 

The conference will be complemented by a remarkable film program comprised of a suite of historical and contemporary documentaries, featuring Maya Deren’s Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti (1985), a documentary film about dance and possession in Haitian Vodoun compiled from footage Deren shot during her fieldwork on the island between 1947 and 1954; William Greave’s The First World Festival of Negro Arts (1967), the official documentary film of the 1966 festival held in Dakar, Senegal, which over 2,000 writers, artists, and performers from throughout the African Diaspora attended, including Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, Alvin Ailey, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Aimé Césaire, and other artists, performers, and dignitaries from 30 countries; and Gilles Elie-dit-Cosaque’s Zétwal (2008), a documentary film that tells the story of local Martinican legend Robert Saint‐Rose’s attempt to propel himself to outer space, through the poetry of Aimé Césaire. 

The conference title is inspired by Suzanne Césaire’s poetic description “Surrealism is permanent readiness for the Marvelous.”  It is also informed by Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci’s The Prison Notebooks in which he wrote, “The starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is ‘knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical processes to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory.” Further, despite “the vast critical literature on surrealism,” as Kelley and Rosemont note in their introduction to Black, Brown, and Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora, “all but a few black surrealists have been invisible…Occasional token mentions aside, people of color – and more particularly those from Africa or the Diaspora – have been excluded from most of the so-called standard works on the subject.”

Accordingly, the conference proceedings will illuminate the complex heterogeneity of historical Surrealism, its circuits of artistic and political exchange in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and the United States, and its accumulations as manifested in interdisciplinary art created in relation to ideas of the sublime, the miraculous, the supernatural, the surprising, and the wondrous as expressed in political and socially oriented works by black contemporary artists. The conference is an important part of Performa’s curatorial and program planning for the Performa 13 biennial’s historical anchor of Surrealism. 

Get Ready for the Marvelous is organized by Adrienne Edwards, Associate Curator, Performa Institute and Ph.D. Candidate, Performance Studies, New York University.


The Performa Institute is a year-round think tank that fosters learning, critical discourse, and deeper engagement in performance by directly supporting its scholarly investigation. The Performa Institute showcases a range of in-depth programs for the presentation and exploration of ideas and the exchange of research and knowledge, with a focus on the study of history and on forging a new intellectual culture surrounding contemporary art. It asks artists, curators, writers, and scholars to function as educators across disciplines to explore innovative visions for the future of art and ideas in New York City and around the world. The Performa Institute was launched on the occasion of the Performa 11 biennial (2011), during which it presented over 50 artist-led classes and workshops.

The Performa Institute is made possible thanks to support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Lambent Foundation for Tides Foundation, Ford Foundation, and the NYU Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions.

Images: Left:  Journal cover of Légitime Défense (Self-Defense) (1932). Right: Adam Pendleton (American, b. 1984) with Jaan Evart (Estonian, born 1981), Marc Hollenstein (Swiss, b. 1980). Black Dada (Ian Berry, couple dancing, independence celebration Congo, 1960) (2008/2012). Courtesy the artist, Pace Gallery, and Shane Campbell Gallery.


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Founded in 2004 by art historian and curator RoseLee Goldberg, Performa is the leading international organization dedicated to exploring the critical role of live visual art performance in the history of the twentieth century and to generating new directions for the twenty-first century, engaging artists and audiences through experimentation, innovation and collaboration. Performa’s unique commissioning, touring, and year-round education programs, involving all disciplines, forge a new course for contemporary art and culture and culminate in the Performa biennial every other November. In 2005, Performa launched the first-ever biennial dedicated to visual art performance, Performa 05, which was then followed by Performa 07 (2007), Performa 09 (2009), and Performa 11 (2011). Performa will present its fifth biennial, Performa 13, November 1-24, 2013.

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