Sun Ra, Issa Samb, and the Drapetomaniacal Avant-Garde
Chapter 4 shifts our attention to the work of two interdisciplinary artists: the American poet and free-jazz musician Sun Ra and the Senegalese sculptor, poet, and performance artist Issa Samb. It begins with the speculative mental illness “drapetomania,” first proposed as a pseudoscientific explanation for the propensity of enslaved Africans to escape captivity. The chapter examines how Samb and Ra transformed this cornerstone of nineteenth-century scientific racism into an insurgent fugitive aesthetics: their avant-garde practices cultivated imagined escape routes from a world in crisis, yet their practices were widely deemed incoherent madness in their time. Assembling an archive that spans poems, sound recordings, cell phone videos, liner notes, films, multimedia installations, and polemic essays, the chapter investigates how, from disparate locations of the global diaspora, Samb and Ra used opacity to imagine in advance new worlds and new forms of being.