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Sekou Sundiata passes…

In an interview with Performing Arts Curator Philip Bither last spring, Sekou Sundiata spoke about the “special agency” of art: “When we encounter a work of art, things are not only unfolding before us. They are happening to us. When the hero falls, we fall. When the hero triumphs, we triumph.” In his work blessing […]

sekousundiata.jpgIn an interview with Performing Arts Curator Philip Bither last spring, Sekou Sundiata spoke about the “special agency” of art:

“When we encounter a work of art, things are not only unfolding before us. They are happening to us. When the hero falls, we fall. When the hero triumphs, we triumph.”

In his work blessing the boats, audiences shared in Sundiata’s personal terror and triumph over kidney disease and an organ transplant. But today we share in sadness: Sundiata died yesterday of heart failure. He was 58.

A writer, spoken-word artist, and educator, Sundiata has presented his work at the Walker four times; most recently, he visited in early 2006 to develop his latest work, the 51st dream state, a personal search for “what it means to be an American” in a post-9/11 age. “I have never been interested in patriotism,” he told Bither. “I am interested in a citizenship of conscience and in critical citizenship. These ideas emphasize a moral, ethical, and critical relationship to the state above a prideful and supportive one. The first proposes a kind of uncritical blindness; the other proposes a look at America that does not flinch or blink.”

In developing the piece, Sundiata traveled the country in hopes of reconnecting with America — and “America.” He hosted citizenship dinners and communal singing events, recording the people he encountered for inclusion in the 51st dream state. Friends shocked and saddened by this news have been emailing around this excerpt from that project, a reminder of Sekou’s inimitable voice and spirit — and a reminder of questions we might all consider asking in this short life:

What if we were Life

Or Liberty

Or the Pursuit of something new?

Between the rocks below

and the stars above

What if we were composed by Love?

And what if we could show

that what we dream

is deeper than what we know?

Suppose if something does not live

in the world

that we long to see

then we make it ourselves

as we want it to be

What if we are Life

Or Liberty

and the Pursuit of something new?

And suppose the beautiful answer

asks the more beautiful question,

Why don’t we get our hopes up too high?

What don’t we get our hopes up to high?

High!

All of us at the Walker share in grief with Sundiata’s family, his wife, Maurine (Kazi) Knighton, daughter Myisha Gomez, stepdaughter Aida Riddle, grandson Amman and his mother Virginia Myrtle Feaster, brothers William and Ronald and all his nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles.

Donations can be made to the National Kidney Foundation at 30 E. 33rd Street, Suite 1100, New York NY 10016.

  • Sonja Kuftinec says:

    This is something I wrote for participants in a conference for which I invited Sekou to speak. I’m still stunned.

    There are a few individuals in the world that continue to shore up my belief in a just social future, one that can be forged and sustained through performance. Every time I encountered Sekou Sundiata, I felt so deeply inspired to believe and to act.

    Last year I witnessed Sekou perform the 51st Dream State at the Walker. That performance, conjuring a more just future vision of the United States, and ensuing conversations about citizenship, inspired me to invite Sekou to speak this June at the Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference. Sekou shared powerful poetry and quiet insights, including the belief that documents such as the Declaration of Independence can sustain their radicality through ongoing dialogue. It’s all of our great misfortune that Sekou’s keynote address turned out to be his last public conversation.

    Sekou inspired so many to believe that the arts and storytelling could lead to dialogue rather than diatribe. I’m so sorry the man himself is no longer with us but the words and ideas live on.

  • Thanks, Sonja. I’m sorry I forgot to mention Sekou’s keynote at the Minneapolis conference last month (here’s a link). Is his talk online as a video or transcript? We’d be happy to host it here if you have a media file.

  • Dean says:

    greatest cat I ever worked with…

  • Sara says:

    Hell. Here in my back bedroom in Kings Cross London I was just idling round the web and saw he’d died.

    Awfully sad.

    Sara