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 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 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
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?
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.