This is a picture of the bathroom at the ICA in Philadelphia. It's not my favorite image from my visit there this past weekend, it is the only picture I could take unnoticed. I tried to slyly sneak some shots in the Sun Ra exhibit, but the damn bleep of my digital camera gave me away instantly. It's an attractive bathroom, covered in wallpaper made up of vintage fashion ads. And while you are visiting this luscious WC, do check out the Sun Ra show upstairs. Last Sunday was the 85th birthday of Marshall Allen, leader of the Arkestra and May 22nd was the 95th anniversary of Sun Ra's arrival on Earth.
Sun Ra and his Arkestra lived In Germantown, on the edge of Philadelphia, for over 35 years, until his death in 1993. When I heard that the ICA was planning a Sun Ra show, I assumed it would be based on images and album art from his Philadelphia days. The title of the show, Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn and Chicago's Afro-Futurist Underground 1954-58 tells a different story.
The show is lent from the collection of the Hyde Park Art Center, in Chicago, and shines a light on a formative time for Sun Ra. The preponderance of free spirited and radical philosophies embraced by black creative communities in post-war Chicago created the Sun Ra Arkestra we know today; an expression of musical experimentation, cosmic philosophies, and cultural reconfiguring. Predating the punk DIY scene by decades Sun Ra formed his own record company, El Saturn records. In addition to living communally in Philadelphia, Sun Ra and the Arkestra designed and printed many of their record covers and sold them at gigs.
The gallery's presentation of album covers and artwork is made more compelling by the screening of several films, photos, and collections of Sun Ra's unreleased music. On July 1 the mighty Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of Marshall Allen takes the stage. July 15th a documentary made by British DJ Don Letts, Sun Ra: Brother from Another Planet will be shown. July 8 John Szwed, Author of Space is the Place lectures. Check out the ICA's website for more events.