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“Free to Be Anywhere in the Universe: An International Conference on New Directions in the Study of the African Diaspora”

IRAAS 25th Anniversary Conference - “Free to Be Anywhere in the Universe: An International Conference on New Directions in the Study of the African Diaspora”
Free & Open to the Public;
Registration is Required for Admission into The Forum, secured building. Please register at

Conference Schedule at

FREE TO BE ANYWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE we will reflect on 25 years of intellectual work in the discipline of Black Studies at Columbia. The University is located near an historic cultural and political heart of the Black Diaspora, the community of Harlem. Not coincidentally, it has played a central role in the scholarly interpretation of the black experience for over a century. Conference themes will include genealogies of Black Studies that frame the Black World in historical perspective; the politics and practice of the Black diaspora; and contemporary debates about the viability of Afro-pessimism.

IRAAS’s importance to contemporary Black Studies builds upon a strong foundation of scholarship and teaching that ranges across the African Diaspora, giving particular emphasis to Black Urban life. In keeping with this expertise, conference panels will highlight the aesthetics of the Black diasporic imagination, the rich cultures of the Black diaspora in New York City, and Global Black Feminisms. We also envision plenaries in poetry and film, as well as an exhibition and conversation with South African artist Mary Sibande.

Conference Schedule====================
Conference Schedule

Thursday April 25
Location: The Forum at 125th street

12:00pm – Noon – 2:00pm
Roundtable – From Theory to Praxis, Black Studies Beyond the Academy
This roundtable seeks to connect some of the fundamental work of IAC alums whose grounding in IRAAS has made significant impact of their work outside the academy. It seeks to highlight the social justice, political, governmental, medical, and educational work our alums are doing, especially around race, inequality, and justice. A discussion of past programs and initiatives that continue to influence their current work.
Zaheer Ali, Brooklyn Historical Society; Natasha Korgaonkar, Columbia University; Meghan Marcelin, Just LeadershipUSA; David Johns, National Black Justice Coalition; Carmen Thompson, Portland State University


2:15pm – 4:15pm
Intellectual Legacies of IRAAS Scholarship
This session will highlight the leading scholarship by IRAAS alums whose work engages the various fields and subfields of Black/African American Studies. Panelists will connect their work to new paradigms and innovations for the future of Black Studies. It will also highlight the legacy and influence of IRAAS on their current work and placement in the academy.
Russell J. Rickford, Cornell University; Zinga Fraser, Brooklyn College
LaMarr Bruce, University of Maryland; Natalie Shibley, University of Pennsylvania

Faculty House on Columbia Campus at 116th Street (Amsterdam Avenue & Morningside Drive) Enter through small Iron gate midblock, next to Jerome Greene Hall. Walk straight back past the Wein courtyard and the Faculty House is on the right

5:00pm – 6:00pm
Pre-Exhibition Talk
Conversation with South African artist, Mary Sibande and Dr. Kellie Jones, Columbia University -Art History and Archaeology, IRAAS Faculty Fellow

6:00pm – 8:00pm
Mary Sibande Exhibition Opening & Reception
Leroy Neiman Gallery, Dodge Hall - Columbia University (Near 116th Street & Broadway gate )
Friday April 26
Location: The Forum at 125th street

10:00am – 11:45am
Genealogies of Black Studies
This session examines distinct and overlapping genealogies of Black Studies. It brings together leading scholars who work in different iterations of Black/African American Studies. Panelists will draw upon their pathbreaking scholarship to speak about trajectories of Black Studies in their own sub-fields.
Chair: Frank Guridy, Columbia University; Jafari Allen, University of Miami; Juliet Hooker, Brown University; Minkah Makalani, University of Texas -Austin


1:15pm – 3:00pm
Diasporic Politics
What are the emerging forms of social solidarity and activism now taking shape across the African diaspora in the wake of neoliberal economic policies, trans-border migrations, climate change and un/natural disasters, and the rise of white, ethno-nationalisms in North America and Europe? How do we think the concepts of African diaspora and Black World while attending to the differing spatial scales at which diasporic communities are imagined, and the varying interests and projects that they serve?
Chairs: Farah Jasmine Griffin / Steven Gregory-Columbia University ; Jessica A. Krug, George Washington University; Victoria J. Collis-Buthelezi, University of Johannesburg; Ana Lucia Araujo, Howard University; Elleni Centime Zeleke, Columbia University


3:15pm – 5:00pm
The Theoretical Turn
The significance of “theory” has long been a question for scholars who locate themselves in relationship to the interdisciplinary field of African American and African Diaspora Studies. At the same time, one could argue that black studies constitutes a theory of the modern world, and of how to produce knowledge in the wake of modernity’s central contradictions (i.e. of slavery and freedom). That said, in recent years Black Studies has been enlivened by engagements with a variety of theoretical resources that have yielded multiple trajectories (i.e Afro-Futurism, Afro-Pessimism, Black Performance, Black Queer studies, to name just a few). This panel is charged with assessing the resources and weighing the prospects for future work within what some have referred to as a novel “theoretical turn” in Black Studies.
Chairs: Josef Sorett/ Saidiya Hartman- Columbia University; Rizvana Bradley, Yale University; Zakiyyah Jackson, University of Southern California; Christina Sharpe, York University; Joseph Winters, Duke University


6:30pm – 8:15pm
Filmmaker & Cinematographer, Arthur Jafa and Tina Campt, Claire Tow and Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Africana and Womens Gender and Sexuality Studies-Barnard College

Saturday April 27
Location: The Forum at 125th street

10:00am – 11:45am
Black Urban Life
Scholars in this transdisciplinary panel will explore the multivalent socio-spatial contours of Africa and the African Diaspora, in particular how black agency, politics, humanity and mobility across the topographies formed in the wake of colonialism, enslavement, capitalism, and liberal democracy impact life in the black world. In addressing the nuanced spaces of communal, urban, national, and planetary life, panelists will also consider how to best understand the productive spatio-temporal possibilities of new black imaginaries, cartographies of resistance and refusal, and diasporic community building.
Chairs: Mabel Wilson / Steven Gregory, Columbia University; Adrienne Brown, University of Chicago; Mindy Fullilove, New School University; Mpho Matsipa, Witswatersrand, Johannesburg ZA; Deborah Thomas, University of Pennsylvania

Lunch Break

1:15pm – 3;00pm
Global Black Feminisms
Concepts of black feminism have informed and helped to reshape fields of academic study as well as political organizing. The proposed panel seeks to present a historical sweep of black feminist thought and practice. Participants might consider a number of questions including, but not limited to the following: How do historical legacies of race, gender and justice shape mass incarceration today? How have black women intellectuals participated in shaping black political thought? How have their participation in global freedom struggles furthered the liberator's vision of those movements, including what we conventionally understand as movements for Civil Rights? In what ways do contemporary forms of racial and gender inequality influence professional occupations? How has a black feminist framework informed contemporary black cultural production?

Chairs: Farah Jasmine Griffin- Columbia University / Mignon Moore-Barnard College
Adia Harvey-Wingfield, Washington University; Kali Gross, Rutgers University; Brittney Cooper, Rutgers University; Imabong Umoren, London School of Economics & Political Science


3:15pm – 5:00pm
Imagining Freedom
This panel considers socio-spatial imaginaries and the active visualization, definition, and construction of artistic freedoms. What roles do literature; music, the visual arts and popular culture play in imagining and articulating trans-diasporic expressions of subjectivity, experience and memory? How do we today theorize the conditions of possibility for an African Diasporic aesthetic, while attending to cultural, historical and geopolitical differences?
Chairs: Farah Jasmine Griffin / Kellie Jones, Columbia University; Tavia Nyong’o, Yale University; Sandrine Colard, Rutgers University; Kevin Fellezs, Columbia University; Roshini Kempadoo, University of East London


Location Change: The Harlem Stage 150 Convent Avenue New York, NY, 10031

Closing Keynote Performance:
Vocalist, Composer, Cultural Worker & IRAAS alum, Imani Uzuri

You can find out more about Imani Uzuri’s work at