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Explore Afrofuturist Artist Quentin VerCetty’s AstroSankofa

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.

VerCetty’s AstroSankofa, with its myriad references to the kaleidoscopic Afrofuturist world, embraces the essence of Carnegie Hall’s Afrofuturism festival, which will be taking place in the spring of 2022.

Explore VerCetty’s AstroSankofa below and learn more about the artist.

  1. Architecture of Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
  2. Raised arms in homage to June Tyson
  3. Fusion of Geordi La Forge’s Star Trek visor and Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru’s aesthetic
  4. Facial references to Sissieretta Jones
  5. Bracelet worn by Fatoumata Diawara
  6. Necklace worn by Dora Milaje women in Marvel’s Black Panther
  7. Necklace worn by T’Chaka, Marvel’s original Black Panther
  8. Sissieretta Jones’s medals
  9. Wings from the Earth, Wind & Fire logo inspired by the Kemetic (Egyptian) goddess Isis
  10. Reference to outfit worn by Labelle
  11. Astronaut gloves in honor of Mae Jemison
  12. Orb containing original kente cloth pattern of the Akan Queen Mother, representing knowledge and strength
  13. Sun Ra headdress
  14. Marvel’s Falcon armor
  15. Obsidian stone and gold trophy-like statue
  16. Crystal quartz (the largest deposits found in South Africa) to symbolize healing and natural power as a metaphor for Blackness
  17. Carnegie Hall building exterior

From the Artist

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 Womack, Alondra Nelson, Camille Turner, and Nalo Hopkinson, among others—I 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.

The foundation of the piece is a tribute to the great and under-celebrated African American soprano Madame Matilda Sissieretta Jones (1868–1933), the first person of African descent to headline at Carnegie Hall. She spoke about 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 me think of Sankofa bird symbolism, but also how the Black-African diasporic experience is like that of a rising phoenix. The posture is in homage to the great Queen of Saturn, June Tyson—the songbird, high priestess, and voice of Sun Ra’s Arkestra. Along with these two references, 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.

Some references are to musical artists who have performed at Carnegie Hall, including the Kemetic-inspired headdress of Sun Ra, and the wings of Horus from Earth, Wind & Fire’s logo. There’s an adaptation of Falcon’s armor and Geordi La Forge’s visor, inspired by Kenyan Afrofuturist artist Cyrus Kabiru. The spacesuit and glove are a nod to Mae Jemison, along with a couple of Black Panther references. 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

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