3rd Annual Morningside Lights: Odysseus on the A Train


SEPTEMBER 27, 2014


DESIGN, CONCEPT, and DIRECTION: Alex Kahn, Sophia Michahelles


ARTISTIC and TECHNICAL SUPPORT: Sean Mair,  Brenna St. George Jones



Odysseus on the A Train (Celebrating Romare Bearden)

In 2012, as artists-in-residence at Columbia University's Miller Theater, PAW helped develop a master plan for an annual illuminated procession in Morningside park.. We chose The Imagined City as the inaugural annual theme, and led public workshops to create an illuminated ambulatory cityscape. It was a huge success and since then hundreds of makers and marchers have participated in what has quickly become an annual nocturnal tradition in a resurgent park once shunned by residents after dark. This year, having scaled the heights The Imagined City in 2012 and plumbed the depths of the Luminous Deep in 2013, Mornigside Lights returned home.

For 2014, we explored the homeward journey as epic, conjuring Homer’s Odyssey as seen through the eyes of Harlem artist Romare Bearden. Embarking from Morningside Park on September 27, Odysseus on the A Train offers a celebratory prelude to the Nov. 15 opening of Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey at Columbia’s Wallach Art Center, the final stop on a traveling exhibition of the artist’s 1977 collage series based on Homer’s mythic tale. Bearden saw rich parallels linking the trials and guiles of Odysseus to the everyday struggles and triumphs of urban existence in his own Harlem neighborhood.  In Odysseus’ fraught and fateful voyage home, Bearden saw the aspirations of African-Americans to establish a sense of home amidst displacement and discrimination. As a child of the Harlem Renaissance (and occasional Jazz composer), Bearden equated the artful maneuvers of Odysseus with those of a Jazz improviser (or urban survivor) making do with whatever he is given. Exhibition curator Robert O’Meally (Columbia’s Zora Neal Hurston Professor of English) observes, “Bearden represented a cosmopolitan improviser’s stance toward life, an attitude of resiliency and cooperation such that whether in a land as strange as that patrolled by the Cyclops…or in one as dangerous as our own, the woman or man of “many tropes” is able not just to survive but find the way back home. “

PAW returned to Miller Theatre on September 20 to lead a week of free collaborative workshops to create luminous structures for this year’s procession. Participants will delve into the Homeric archetypes – gods and monsters, heroes and nemeses –  to find parallels in their own contemporary urban ethos, finding Home, as Bearden did, through the lens of Homer. We drew inspiration not only from Bearden’s imagery, but from his process, using the artist’s layered decoupage of color to infuse ancient iconography with a modernist edge. As lanterns took shape over the course of the week, participants would come and go, each adding a new layer of personal narrative on the works in progress, improvising responses in a freewheeling blind collaboration.  The resulting flotilla of nearly a hundred illuminated structures lit up Morningside Park as it navigated the park’s darkened paths in search of home. 


• Visit Official MSL Website; www.morningside-lights.com

• See Romare Bearden's Black Odyssey at the Smithsonian

• Images & video from 1st Annual MSL: The Imagined City

Poseidon, from Romare Bearden's Black Odyssey. See the full exhibition and commentary at the Smithsonian....