Sun Ra in Egypt

Tom Bogaert

Bogaert’s “1971, Sun Ra in Egypt” is an ongoing research project based on the life and work of Sun Ra that exists as a series of performances, lectures, installations, videos, art objects, and a related publication. The project takes as its starting point Sun Ra’s 1971 visit to Egypt, and many of the related works playfully insert Sun Ra’s life and legacy into the conceptual, pop, and minimalist zeitgeist of the New York art world of the 1960s and 1970s.


Tom Bogaert came to art over a decade ago after practicing refugee law. His artistic practice is organized through long-term research projects that often examine the intersection of humanism and human rights, politics and entertainment, and art and propaganda. Bogaert moved to Amman in 2009 and has since produced a series of works under a project called “Impression, proche orient,” which draws from his experience as a European living in the Middle East and uses irony and criticism to interrogate the layers of his own understanding of contemporary issues throughout the region.


27 tanning lamps, mechanical timers, 300 x 200 x 30 cm

The legendary American jazz pioneer, mystic, poet, and philosopher Sun Ra was born Herman Poole Blount, but changed his name to Le Sony’r Ra after a visionary experience led him to believe that he came from the planet Saturn. From then on, Sun Ra was fascinated by both outer space and ancient Egypt, and incorporation of the Egyptian sun god Ra into his name was the first of his many invocations of ancient Egypt’s culture and beliefs. Famous for his music as much as his eccentricity, Sun Ra’s unique sonic productions reflected his mix of new age mysticism, black nationalism, Freemasonry, Kabbalah, Rosicrucianism, and other non-Western cosmologies. From the mid-1950s until his death in 1993, Sun Ra led a band called “The Arkestra”, which continues to perform its eccentric mix of free jazz, bop, and electronic music under the leadership of Marshall Allen.

In “Monument” 1 for Sun Ra (2014), Tom Bogaert draws inspiration from Dan Flavin’s “monuments” for V. Tatlin (1964–90) a series of fluorescent tower- like compositions, the titles of which propose a tribute to Russian avant- gardist Vladimir Tatlin and his unrealized spiral tower Monument to the Third International (1920). Of the series, Flavin confessed, “I always use ‘monuments’ in quotes to emphasize the ironic humor of temporary monuments. These ‘monuments’ only survive as long as the light system is useful (2,100 hours).” Just as Flavin’s sculpture brings Tatlin’s revolutionary Constructivist tower down to earth through his use of commercial lights, Bogaert’s “Monument” 1 for Sun Ra (2014) plays on the heliocentric worlds of Sun Ra with what has become a fetishistic substitute for sun—the tanning lamp.


Sputnik Power, 2014

Sound installation, dimensions variable photo: Nathalie Rebholz

In the early 1950s, the moon became a plausible goal for space travel and Sun Ra was fascinated by the possibility—in fact, he talked about it so much that some musicians took to calling him “the moon man.” Around this time, Sun Ra also claimed to have been abducted by aliens who transported him to Saturn (he told this story many times with remarkable consistency in detail). In the summer of 1969, when the world was excitedly awaiting the flight of Apollo 11, Esquire magazine asked contemporary popular figures for their suggestions for the first words on the moon. Sun Ra, then at the height of his fame, eagerly penned a poem in response: Reality has touched against myth / Humanity can move to achieve the impossible / Because when you’ve achieved one impossible the others / Come together to be with their brother, the first impossible / Borrowed from the rim of the myth / Happy Space Age To You….

Sputnik Power (2014) refers to Sun Ra’s belief in “Pyramid Power,” the alleged supernatural or paranormal properties of the Egyptian pyramids and objects of similar shape. With this power, even model pyramids are said to preserve foods, sharpen razor blades, improve health, function as idea incubators, and trigger sexual urges—among a number of other dramatic effects. Sun Ra was a strong believer in “Pyramid Power” and was often seen wearing a copper wire “pyramid hat.”