In her essay, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The African Cosmogram as a Blueprint for Modern Art, Lisa Clark reconciles Basquiat’s oeuvre with the hieroglyphics and ideology of an ancient African (Kongo) symbol called a cosmogram.
Scholars such as Wyatt MacGaffey define the cosmogram as the “simplest ritual space” that symbolically overlaps with the Christian crucifix and Buddhist mandala. We can find resonances of the Kongo Cosmogram that are central to traditions across the African Diaspora, including Afrofuturism, described as a method of re-contextualizing and synthesizing the past, present and future.
Built on an infrastructure using polarity symbols to suggest movement, and opposition, conflict becomes a positive and necessary phenomenon—a colorful, dynamic opportunity for change or healing. Thompson links these African structures to different contemporary black art forms, which include not only visual ones but also music and dance— built on confrontation and resolution. The most important part is the point of intersection, the clash, the butting up against or crossing over.
Can new practices shift existing social interstices that mark certain bodies as inferior beings to alternative contexts that unlock the binary rhetoric of victimization and oppression?
The African Cosmogram Matrix in Contemporary Art and Culture
Dr. Nettrice R. Gaskins, Boston Arts Academy
“Kongo and Yoruba
cosmology (indicates) a
connection to and contiguity
with the spirituality of
African continental space.”
Artists, particularly in Afrofuturism, re-contextualize and assess history and
imagine the future of the African Diaspora via science, science fiction, technology,
sound, performance... and their own world views.
KALUNGA (WATER) LINE
Kalunga is Kikongo for “threshold between worlds” and is often associated with
the Atlantic Ocean. The Kalunga line is a line under the Atlantic Ocean where the
living became the dead and the only way back to life was to re-cross the line.
(Cosmograms) have been
evident in West African
cultures and have been
elaborated upon, showing
complex intricate patterns or
simplified into abbreviated
X’s, or even V’s implying an
arc of travel or motion.
Afrofuturist art resonates
with P-funk’s Funkentelechy,
or a sense of completeness
or utopia. These works re-position
or direct the
viewer/listener to ensure that
everyone is on ‘the One.’
Jean Michel-Basquiat. “King
Kikongo Cosmogram. Courtesy Duane
Deterville and SFMoMA.
Ellen Gallagher. “La Chinoise, (detail)”
Kahlil Joseph, with Flying Lotus.
“Until the Quiet Comes (still),” 2012.
Maxwell. “Embrya,” 1998.
Parliament. “Motor Booty Affair (inner
Sanford Biggers, with David Ellis.
“Mandala of the B-Bodhisattva II,”
Brides of Frankenstein. “Funk or
Xenobia Bailey. “Sister Paradise's
Apron (detail),” 2000.
Saya Woolfalk. “ChimaTek,” 2014.
Jean Michel-Basquiat. “Tuxedo,” 1983.