The Pittsburgh Foundation

Rainbow Serpent

Photo credit: Marquita Sams
Photo credit: Marquita Sams

2023 grant amount: $50,000 over two years

This grant will support a two-year residency with multimedia artist Marquita Sams, a Black queer choreographer, painter, dancer, mother and spiritual healer, to develop "Uli Awakened: An Arc Toward Cosmic Connection," an immersive installation that celebrates the contributions of African women astronomers. The installation will use “uli,” a traditional set of curvilinear designs created by Nigerian-Igbo women to document astronomical phenomena, as the basis for a multimedia installation that fuses visual art, dance, music and video projections. This project aligns with Sams’s artistic interests in exploring Afro-diasporic knowledge systems, particularly traditions of Black women endangered by colonization, religious bias and misogynoir, and Rainbow Serpent's commitment to advancing African cosmologies through immersive and boundary-pushing artistic practices.

For "Uli Awakened," Sams will choreograph dance pieces for five Black women dancers that mimic the visual language of uli, create paintings inspired by uli motifs that will serve as the visual backdrop for the performances, use video projections to display uli-inspired animations, create a soundscape combining traditional Igbo music and contemporary sounds and present a series of artist talks and workshops about the work. As the first multimedia performance based on this Black feminist tradition, this project addresses the need for greater representation and appreciation of Black women’s contributions to the arts and sciences, building an artistic ecosystem around Black women’s her-stories, and providing employment opportunities for several local Black dancers and studio assistants to support the creation of this work.