The conference will explore the making of visual archives while drawing attention to historical landmarks and moments that act as the anniversaries of the arrival of Africans in the New World

Terry Boddie, Prison Industrial, 2018

New York University will host Black Portraiture[s] V: Memory and the Archive Past. Present. Future from October 17-19, marking the ninth conference in a series that brings together artists and scholars for conversations about imaging the black body (free and open to the public). The three-day conference is hosted at NYU’s Washington Square and Brooklyn campuses and features 50 panel discussions exploring the making of visual archives, the narratives they tell, and the parameters that define them as objects of study, while drawing attention to historical landmarks and moments that act as the anniversaries of the arrival of Africans in the New World.

“This 400th anniversary year, marking the first documented landing of enslaved Africans on North American shores, gives us cause for reflection and poses a fount of open ended, yet demanding questions: How do we begin to commemorate such a fraught anniversary? How has the archival record documented this centuries long journey? How can our labor and creativity as artists, scholars, students, and change agents dismantle the yoke of structural racism that was ushered in with the transatlantic slave trade? These questions and others call for a brighter, more just, and equitable future,” said Deborah Willis, Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, director of the NYU Institute for African American Affairs and the Center for Black Visual Culture, and organizer of Black Portraiture[s].

The conference brings together scholars, journalists, artists, researchers, conservationists, and curators to discuss the creation of historical narratives; the visual culture of slavery and its archives; the potential of the archive to provoke social change or artistic innovation in the future; and how social and economic histories as well as experiences of race, class, gender and sexuality affect the construction, acquisition and maintenance of archives of the African Diaspora.

A few conference highlights are included below:
The conference will kick-off Thursday, October 17 with panels exploring resistance narratives in the US Virgin Islands; black feminism, including discussions about the rendering of black female characters by white male content creators in a post-apocalyptic horror graphic novel; how to preserve African-American history through pioneering filmmaker Alice Micheaux, who was buried in an unmarked grave in 1985; and more. A visual conversation will feature discussion, dramatized reading, drums, dance and fashion, fusing contemporary connection and ancestral memories to explore the processes of healing from historical enslavement.

Representation Matters – The Evolving Black LGBTQ Archive,’ held October 17 from 1:00 p.m.-2:30 p.m., will explore the dearth of popular images documenting and articulating black LGBTQ life and efforts to remedy these omissions. This panel includes Steven G Fullwood of the Nomadic Archivists Project discussing three pioneers whose archives were rescued and preserved in at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture: editor and activist Joseph Beam, Stonewall riot pioneer Stormé DeLarverié, and founder of Harlem’s African American Wax and History Museum Raven Chanticleer. Jennifer Brody from Stanford University will continue this discussion by exploring opportunities for protecting and expanding the Black LGBTQ archive. Conversations about the inclusion of black LGBTQ life in archival practice are particularly resonant this year in the context of New York City’s extensive commemorative efforts celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

“Archives until very recently were the directive of empirical, colonizing desires. The histories of prominent white men primarily filled the U.S. archival institutions. Beginning in the 20th Century, many important archival interventions have occurred to challenge and complicate not only what was in the archive, but the politics of an archive, as well,” said Fullwood, who is also the Project Director of the Center for Black Visual Culture, NYU Institute of African American Affairs.

“Black LGBTQ culture and history is only now, in the past few decades, deemed important enough to collect an archive. This effort to preserve these histories was primarily pushed by Black LGBTQ people who lived those histories,” he continued.

Panels on Friday, October 18 will explore race and remembering in the United States through monuments and museums; photography of Africa and the African diaspora; memes, online “re-segregation”, and #PAYBLACKTiME, a movement advocating for the redistribution of white wealth amongst Black people as reparations; organized crime in U.S. visual culture, including the role of Afrodiasporic women and the ties between Martiniquan-American madame and mafia boss, Stephanie St. Claire, legendary Harlem gangster, Bumpy Johnson, and his protégé and notorious drug dealer, Frank Lucas.

A panel on slavery and art includes Kamau Ware, an artist and historian who is working on a graphic novel and conducts walking tours highlighting New York’s first Black neighborhood and the lives of black people who helped pave roads such as Broadway and Wall Street (but have since been erased from public memory). During this same panel, Holly Brewer, University of Maryland, will discuss how the English monarchy used fashion to make slavery seem morally acceptable. ‘The Afterlife of Slavery’ session will feature Jenna Wortham, New York Times magazine staff writer and co-host of the podcast Still Processing, arguing for a reexamination of the processes inherent to black archives as a way to resist the ephemerality of social media and digital transactions.

The Sonic 15th Century to Today: Music and Influences on Friday, October 18 will feature Dyana Williams, CEO of Influence Entertainment and Brennan Williams, CEO of Coloan Brands in conversation about the powerful cultural retention references relating to ancestors and the African continent in Beyonce’s auditory and visually rich homages. The same panel will explore the evolution of singer and Prince protegé Denise Matthews (who was better known as Vanity) and the seminal role of Motown Records in breaking down racial barriers.

Sessions on Saturday, October 19 will examine pain and trauma in representations of Black love through art and pop culture (including Beyonce’s Lemonade and ABC sitcom Black-ish); the biases inherent in algorithms and the impact of big data and AI on marginalized and vulnerable communities; new approaches in the study of portraits of unknown and unnamed black subjects; queer identity and the archive; and more.

Black Portraiture[s] V: Memory and the Archive Past. Present. Future. will be held Thursday, October 17 to October 19 at the Kimmel Center for University Life, 60 Washington Square South, and 370 Jay Street in Brooklyn and is free and open to the public. To access the full schedule and register, please visit blackportraitures.info. Reporters wishing to attend the conference should contact Sarah Binney at sarah.binney@nyu.edu or 212.998.6829.

About the Department of Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts
The Department of Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts is a four-year B.F.A. program centered on the making and understanding of images. Students explore photo-based imagery as personal and cultural expression. Situated within New York University, the program offers students both the intensive focus of an arts curriculum and a serious and broad grounding in the liberal arts.