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Dance @ FESTAC'77 - Doctoral Dissertation

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My project is to analyze the impact of Festac ‘77 on Black dance in America. I first heard of Festac ‘77 in 2014, when very little could be found about it on the internet. So excited by it, I organized group research on this topic with my community college students in collaboration with Tumani Onabiyi, and the San Francisco Library who was presenting and exhibit of FESTAC'77 by The Chimurenga research group. Festac ‘77 the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture was a festival held in Lagos, Nigeria which hosted every African and African Diaspora country. This month-long festival hosted more than 100,000 attendants and 40,000 artists, like Stevie Wonder, and Audre Lourde. Katherine Dunham was one of the original organizers of the first Festac which took place in Senegal. Presidents and state representatives along with writers, visual artists, dancers, choreographers, theater groups and diplomats meet and held cultural events, intellectual colloquiums, and an array of events to reimage African and Black identity and to set a new trajectory for the future. My research considers Festac to be what I call a dance-critical, meaning an event where dance is not necessarily the main attraction but still plays a critical role. Sociocultural Development was a major focus of the event. Festac can be seen as a artful approach to recovering from years of cultural attacks from Western European colonial rule - an epic first step forward taken by Black people as a united unit with the intent to liberate their minds and reformulate universal currents of knowledge and culture. Given the nature of dance from Africa it would play an important role in expressing over 400 years of emotion and recalling of pre-colonial ideas of self.
So, why don’t more people, scholars, artists, and researchers of today know about Festac ‘77? This question is at the crux of the importance of my research, which is to visibilize Black histories and provide a historiography of the festival. This work will help to improve understandings of Black dance. This festival solidified the African Diasporic knowledge base that is used in dance communities around the world, as well as in an array of different areas of study. This view point of the self-determined newly liberated is a critical voice in Dance Studies. Also, the information that was refined by these self-determined artists and organizers is vital to understanding the transmission of African Diasporic themes, cultural production and preservation, and performance methods in the Americas. This festival was more than a mere arts festival, it was an act of international development and ontological healing. In the hopes of elevating the work of artists from the US contingent, my work privileges the participants over the typical Western gaze and epistemological knowledge bases. Ultimately my work will implicitly resolve antiblackness and the way stereotype trivialize, distort, marginalize, erase, and misrepresent Black culture, in this case dance.

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