An expansive conference (May 28-31) and exhibition (through Aug. 29) offers new perspectives on the historical and contemporary role played by photography, art, film, literature, and music in referencing the image of the black body in the West. Held at Villa La Pietra in Florence as a sequel to five similar conferences, these events bring together artists and scholars from an assortment of disciplines and practices, including art history, fashion, dance, theater, and studio art, in wide-ranging conversations about representations of Africans across the globe.

Jean Belley


In conjunction with the conference, a multi-media art exhibition, ReSignifications, is on view at Villa La Pietra and The Bardini Museum in Florence. The exhibition draws a collection of artists from around the world, including Carrie Mae Weems, Fred Wilson, Mickaline Thomas, Zanele Muholi, Omar Diop, Peju Alatise, and Mary Sibande, among many others.

Curated by Nigerian playwright, director, filmmaker, scholar and NYU professor of drama and Africana studies Awam Amkpa, ReSignifications was inspired by the “Blackamoor” statues within La Pietra’s own art collections, which depict Africans in various states of service and decoration. Since 2012, artists from Africa, Europe and the United States engaged in residencies at NYU Florence in order to create art in response to the Blackamoors, juxtaposing a selection of three-dimensional objects, figurines, and sculptures with reinterpretations and counternarratives from a spectrum of contemporary artistic angles.

The conference, “Black Portraitures II: Imaging the Black Body and Re-staging Histories,” explores the impulses, ideas, and techniques undergirding the production of self-representation and desire, and the exchange of the gaze from the 19th century to the present day in fashion, film, art, and the archives.

Below is a look at some art inspired by these and other images throughout history.