CUESEF 2021: Forging Futures Through Black Educational Histories

June 16, 2021 - 9:30am to June 19, 2021 - 5:00pm

"Nommo Semi, The Guardian of Space" by Mikael Owunna. >> Learn more about the art and the artist.

June 16-19, 2021 | Via Zoom | Registration is required.

"History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do." - James Baldwin


Conference Description

Co-sponsored by the Heinz Endowments, in CUESEF 2021, we aspire to public study: What can we learn from histories of Black knowledge traditions and educational movements in the U.S.? How do Black communal responses to schools and schooling reflect struggle toward justice and freedom? How do these histories inform and shift our current educational commitments and practices? The Akan people of what is now known as Ghana and the Ivory Coast define Sankofa as a return to the past to move forward. Our theme invites historians to join us in exploring Black educational imaginations over time as essential to forging futures of self-determination, collective responsibility, and freedom. This year's focus on Black education traditions assumes Blackness as expansive and not a category exclusive of ethnic and cultural realities. Participants will engage dynamic historian dialogues, study groups, and webinars to foster thinking about the reparative practices and systems that rectify ongoing educational injustice and inequity and build futures.

Speakers include: Dr. James Anderson (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Dr. Heather Williams (University of Pennsylvania), Dr. Donna Murch (Rutgers University), Dr. Jarvis Givens (Harvard University), Dr. Linda Perkins (Claremont Graduate University), Dr. Stephanie Evans (Georgia State University), Dr. Elizabeth Todd-Breland (University of Illinois at Chicago), Dr. V.P. Franklin (University of California, Riverside), Dr. Derrick Aldridge (University of Virginia), and Dr. Michael Hines (Stanford University).


>> Stay tuned for session information.

>> Meet some of our speakers


The Art of CUESEF 2021

The Piece: "Nommo Semi, The Guardian of Space"

In Dogon myth, Nommo Semi (Sacrificed Nommo) is the third of the created divine Nommo from which all humanity descends. In the primordial blackness of space, he will be sacrificed by Amma, the Dogon high god, to purify the universe as atonement for the wicked deeds of his twin, Yurugu. Planets and stars spool forth from his blood along his body. He is then resurrected, and as he turns with his arms, his gesture demonstrates his role as the Guardian of Space.




Meet the Artist

Mikael Owunna is a queer Nigerian-Swedish American photographer and engineer based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Exploring the intersections of visual media with engineering, optics, Blackness, and African cosmologies, his work seeks to elucidate an emancipatory vision of possibility that pushes African people beyond all boundaries, restrictions, and frontiers. Owunna’s work has been exhibited across Asia, Europe, and North America and has been collected by institutions such as the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Equal Justice Initiative, Duke University, and National Taiwan Museum. His work has also been featured in media ranging from the New York Times to CNN, NPR, VICE, and The Guardian. He has lectured at venues including Harvard Law School, World Press Photo (Netherlands), Tate Modern (UK), and TEDx. Owunna’s first published monograph 'Limitless Africans' was released in 2019 by FotoEvidence and was awarded the FotoEvidence Book Award with World Press Photo.


Social Media: IG, Twitter, FB: @mikaelowunna

Headshot credit: Nick Caito


Artist Statement

Contemporary Western visual culture is awash in images of Black death: videos of Black people (Michael Brown, Jr., George Floyd, and many more) being killed by police, Black bodies washing up on the shores of the Mediterranean, Africans starving and dying in Pulitzer-Prize winning photography. The trope of the Black body as a site of death is pervasive and omnipresent.
Responding to images of police killings of Black people, since 2016, Mikael Owunna has worked to articulate an alternative vision of the Black body as the incarnation of the eternal cosmos. Using his engineering background, Owunna built a camera flash that only transmits ultraviolet light, and in each photoshoot he begins by hand painting his sitters’ nude bodies with fluorescent paints that glow under ultraviolet light. Owunna clicks down on the shutter in total darkness, and for a fraction of a second their Black bodies illuminate as the universe, transfiguring the Black body into transcendent, ethereal vessels.
Titled "Infinite Essence," this series explores a transfigured vision of the Black body in relationship with West African spiritual and cosmological systems, particularly Igbo and Dogon. Each image references myths and divine principles from both systems, connecting Black bodies of the present across space and time to our ancestral conceptions of the universe.