Sanford Biggers, The Cartographer’s Conundrum (2012). On view at MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA from February 4, 2012 through October 31, 2012. Photo by Arthur Evans.
The production, directed by artist Sanford Biggers, could be titled “An Intergalactic Journey to a New Black Consciousness.” Think George Clinton’s far-out, ’70s funk bands Parliament and Funkadelic. Lights swirl above as you follow a diamond-shaped floor reminiscent of the wild patches on a jacket worn by Don Cornelius on “Soul Train.”
Along the way, pianos are turned upside-down, horns lay asunder and a curious framed portrait sits alone. Hung from the ceiling, pews cascade down like a roller coaster toward a pulpit where a large piano and pipes burst outward in exultation. From the reverse angle, the seats are crashing downward and the dais is exploding. Is it all coming together or falling part? It’s a metaphor for the African experience in the Diaspora.
The exhibit is based on one painting on the mezzanine above the pulpit — the altarpiece of the exhibit. Created as a mural by John Biggers (1924-2001) — a cousin of Sanford — the reproduction shimmies with a narrative about deliverance from earthly shackles to a place of redemption somewhere else in the universe.
Slaves sing, prophetic meteorites circle the sky, righteous dudes preach in high heels, women raise talismans upward as spaceships land in a busy mix of cubism and realism similar to a 1930s mural during the Great Depression, designed to uplift downtrodden people and re-establish cultural values.