Directly following my period of book immersion, I attended a screening of the 1974 movie classic Space Is the Place. Combining science fiction and blacksploitation, avant-garde jazz musician Sun Ra descends to earth from outer space, where he’s come to elevate consciousness through his intergalactic music and message.


In one scene from the film, Ra materialises in a community centre in Oakland, California, informing the black youth gathered there that he has come to take them to outer space in his ship. ‘Are there any whiteys up there?’ one of them asks. ‘They’re already up there, they are walking there today. They take frequent trips to the moon’, Ra replies. ‘I notice none of you have been invited.’


Through a cosmic existence in which there is no past and no future, Ra confronts the lived moment of the United States in the 1970s. Sun Ra and his generation bore witness to the turbulent African American civil rights movement and the violent assassinations of its leaders: Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Fred Hampton, and Harry and Harriette Moore (the husband-and-wife founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or NAACP), among hundreds of others. In the 1980 documentary A Joyful Noise, Ra shares his posthuman outlook tempered by these all too human events: ‘the only thing planet earth produces are the dead bodies of humanity’.


Returning to Sun Ra’s work was an important moment for my project, reconfiguring my understanding of posthumanism in a way that is distinctly postcolonial in its outlook. In The Location of Culture (1994), Homi Bhabha conceptualises the ‘postcolonial time-lag’ through the writings of Frantz Fanon. ‘Time lag’ is that parallel temporality which continuously renders the black man in the past, the white man in the future. For Fanon, the notion of ‘Man’ – a working definition from which he is also exempt – warrants a similar disavowal: ‘leave this Europe where they are never done talking of Man, yet murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of every one of their own streets, in all the corners of the globe. […] Europe undertook the leadership of the world with ardor, cynicism, and violence. […] When I search for Man in the technique and the style of Europe, I see only a succession of negations of man, and an avalanche of murders’ (Fanon quoted in Said 2003: 20–21). Reflecting on Ra and Fanon’s historical moment, the idea of well-being for the African diaspora cannot rest on ideas of future ‘progress’.


In the world of science fiction, however, future justice is present tense, the earth one star in a universe with a wider capacity for justice. From this perspective, Ra’s eccentric outer-space persona becomes clearer. In television interviews, he intermittently refers to himself as an ‘angel’ or as having been ‘born on Saturn’, asserting ‘you can only understand planet earth when you look at its laws – people here on earth don’t know how to treat beings that they don’t understand. If an alien came to planet earth in a spaceship it wouldn’t have any rights. If an angel came down to planet earth it wouldn’t have any rights’ – when I come down here, I don’t have any rights. If I was a human, I wouldn’t need to go around demanding my human rights.

Drawing on the civilisations of ancient (African) Egypt, Ra refuses a utopian past/future in which we are all one race, asserting instead a vitally black outer space. Space Is the Place opens with scenes of a tropical outer-space paradise. In Pharaonic garb, Ra speaks amid mirrored bubbles and flowering glass plants: ‘The music is different here, the vibrations are different. Not like planet earth. Planet earth, the sound of guns, anger, frustration. There was no one to talk to on planet earth who would understand. We decided to set up a colony for black people here, see what they could do on a planet all their own, without any white people there. They could drink in the beauty of this planet, would affect their vibrations, for the better of course.’


Posthumanist author Rosi Braidotti, in turn, cautions her readers against a universalising process by which humans become one race, or raceless. Panhumanism is not only the stuff of (white) science fiction but also a chief marketing strategy of consumer capitalism. For Braidotti, the idea of ‘one race’, as seen in iconic Benetton clothing ads, is simply a means of erasing and ignoring power dynamics. One image from Benetton’s iconic advertisements features a white mother, black father, and Asian baby clutched in familiar embrace. Braidotti then presents us with a second Benetton image: that of a white baby suckling from a headless pair of black breasts. The company failed to imagine what many others would see: a black woman nursing the slave master’s child.


As early as 1903, African American scholar W. E. B. Du Bois warned that ideas of race could not be abandoned until the discrimination associated with race was solved (see Du Bois 1994). From his black colony in outer space, Ra is not interested in changing earthlings’ minds, because his music does not speak on the level of the mind. As with certain aspects of Palestinian Wildlife Series, Ra’s music draws on vibrational communication. This alternate form of communication echoes for me Marks’s writing on embodied cinematic images. They speak through the power of haptic resources to parties open to the experience.


Meditating on Ra’s strategies, the possibilities for Palestinian Wildlife Series became clearer. I did not need to spell everything out for my viewers. In troubling the work with Arabic titles and the name of its contested location, something nevertheless becomes clear: this is not Hoping for a Better Situation in which We Act like Friends, Leaving the Same Hierarchies Preserved Series, but something different and specific. It is made not to educate people but for those interested in reflecting on these problematics through creative, alternative, even vibrational, means.

Sun Ra was not in the business of persuading people through a space persona absurd to the point of dismissal. Yet there was method in his madness, and in his own way he asked the very questions Braidotti (2013) employs an epoch of continental philosophy to answer: we were never human in the same way to begin with. Of planet earth – in a statement that could easily have come from a Palestinian – Ra says, ‘I don’t expect to become a citizen, it takes too long’ (Rollefson 2008).


Nevertheless, Ra did not limit his interventions to music: through interviews, films, lectures, and poetry he made his message clear in words. Together these comprise the whole of Ra’s critical, trans-galactic project. In Palestinian Wildlife Series, I came to see the lectures, presentations, writings, and experiments I conducted as comprising the total of my artistic research. The totality of Ra’s oeuvre, in its embodiment of a critically black posthumanism, thus encouraged my most important reflections on my research question: How can art be made that is political and poetic without being didactic?




In the context of my project in Palestine and Cairo in 2011, I needed to make work that was quiet and unspectacular. It was a form of resistance to our overdetermination, at a moment when our ethnic identities were at their most consumable. To make work that did not predictably address difference through the human form – triumphant or defeated images of revolution, war, and poverty – felt like a necessary task of imagination.


Vietnamese experimental documentary film-maker Trinh T. Minh-ha speaks of her work as ‘a spectacle that shows neither spectacular beings nor sensational actions; offers neither a personal nor a professional point of view; provides no encased knowledge to the acquisitive mind; and has no single story to tell nor any central message to spread, except the unconcealed one(s) about the spectators themselves as related to each specific context’ (Minh-ha 2013: 356).

*Sun Ra’s ‘Sun Thoughts’ from the 1969 album My Brother the Wind, Volume II

Video experiment, 2014. Running time: 1 minute.

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