“My astral body was always in an upright position, this made standing descents at enormous rates of speed feel devastating. It was like a down rush of a falling elevator. In an astral body you can fly through glass, through a brick wall of a building, or through any material obstruction without pain or impact. And you can move on air as smoothly and swiftly without stepping and foot pedaling like a human being.” —Rebecca Cox Jackson
Transmissions, or these histories we lest not forget is organized on the occasion of the Benton Museum of Art’s recent acquisition of Cauleen Smith’s film Sojourner (2018) and her works on paper Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (2019) and In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (2019). Sojourner elevates the utopian visions of jazz musician and swamini Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda, Shaker eldress Rebecca Cox Jackson, and the Combahee River Collective, the Black feminist lesbian socialist organization. In her later years, Coltrane founded an ashram, or spiritual community, in the Santa Monica Mountains of Southern California. Jackson was born a free woman at the end of the eighteenth century and founded a Shaker community in Philadelphia, living with her lifelong companion and protégée, Rebecca Perot. The Combahee River Collective’s seminal text, the “Combahee River Collective Statement,” was a foundational contribution to the concept of intersectionality.
Jackson’s ecstatic visions narrate parts of Sojourner. Her words, as well as those of Coltrane and the Combahee River Collective, are transmitted through radio to contemporary women of color, traversing the Watts Towers and the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Art. These transmissions from the past combine the deeply personal and spiritual with collective liberation work. Madeleine Hunt Ehrlich’s film Spit on the Broom (2019) and Sophia Nahli Allison’s photographic work The Rapture or a Resurrection (2019) join Smith’s work in rendering history and potential futures that, if heeded, can prove instructive as we chart paths forward.