The highly anticipated tandem art exhibition/conference – Re-Significations and Black Portraiture[s] II: Imaging the Black Body and Re-Staging Histories – will be inaugurated May 28, 2015 with the conference ending May 31, and the exhibition running through August 15, 2015 in Florence, Italy.

Image from the exhibit featuring a man in a suit holding an umberella

The highly anticipated tandem art exhibition/conference examining the roles that visual art, film, literature and music play in constructing the image of the black body in Western culture – Re-Significations and Black Portraiture[s] II: Imaging the Black Body and Re-Staging Histories – will kick off with a conference from May 28-May 31, 2015 and an exhibition running May 29- August 29, 2015 in Florence, Italy. Both events will draw panelists and new works by a remarkable collection of artists and scholars from around the world.

Re-Significations, a groundbreaking thematic art exhibition curated by Nigerian playwright, director, filmmaker, scholar and New York University Professor of Drama and Africana studies Awam Amkpa, was inspired by the “Blackamoor” statues within Villa 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 counter narratives from a spectrum of contemporary artistic angles. Artists contributing work include Carrie Mae Weems, Fred Wilson, Mickalene Thomas, Zanele Muholi, Omar Diop, Peju Alatise and Mary Sibande, among many others. Re-Significations will be on view at Villa La Pietra, Galleria Biagiotti, and the Bardini Museum in Florence.

Timed to coincide with the exhibition’s opening, the Black Portraiture[s] II: Imaging the Black Body and Re-Staging Histories conference is the sixth in a series of highly successful conferences hosted by New York University (NYU) and Harvard University. While featuring more than 40 panels and presentations on a wide variety of cross-disciplinary topics, Black Portraiture[s] II will adopt a scholarly focus on depictions of the black body around the world. Featured panelists include Ayoka Chinzera, Alessandra Di Maio, Salah Hassan, Maaza Mengiste, Misan Sagay, Simon Njami, Ella Shohat, Joan Morgan, and Jason King.  More than 700 participants are confirmed to attend.

“Re-Significations and Black Portraiture[s] are a perfect illustration of what’s possible at a truly global university. We were able to derive inspiration from items of cultural significance outside the United States, and then use them as a catalyst for the generation of meaningful art, scholarship, and debate that are legitimately global,” said Amkpa. “The subject matter couldn’t be more urgent given the challenges the world faces in terms of the imagery of race and social justice, from African immigration along the Italian coast to the acts of civil unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore. It’s our role as a global university not to shy away from these issues, but to use everything in our arsenal to face them head on.”

“Black Portraiture[s] II invites all in attendance to conduct a crucial reading of the black portrait while challenging conventional perspectives on identity, beauty, cosmopolitanism, and community in Africa and its diaspora,” said Deborah Willis, who is chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts and co-organizer of the Black Portraiture[s] II conference. “Beauty and authenticity, desire and repulsion, power and submission all come into question, constituting an invaluable resource to fulfill the intellectual mandate to produce critical knowledge about African identities and representations."

A hub for global critical discourse for decades, Villa La Pietra is the center for NYU’s academic and civic activities with the historical rich city of Florence. With the support of NYU Faculty of Arts and Sciences Trustee Robert Holmes, Jr., artists have taken up residence at Villa la Pietra to explore contemporary interpretations based on the permanent collections of the Villa’s former owners, the Acton Family, who bequeathed the estate to NYU in 1994. In addition to serving as a center for academic learning and research, the campus also regularly hosts high-level international academic and political panels and conferences.

"NYU’s campus at Villa La Pietra is the ideal backdrop for international discourse on imagining the black body, in part because of the “Blackamoors,” but also because African diaspora is very much at the forefront of debate here in Italy and across Europe,” said Ellyn Toscano, Executive Director of NYU Florence, co-organizer of Black Portraiture[s] II, and Executive Producer of Re-Significations. “The conference and exhibition provide a rich opportunity to deconstruct, compare, and contextualize the myriad portrayals of the black body in Western societies from multidisciplinary angles.”

The Black Portraiture conference series began in 2004 by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. The most recent conference, held in Paris in 2013 and which drew over 400 attendees and panelists, was organized by Willis, Gates, and Manthia Diawara, University Professor, Director of the Institute of African American Affairs and Professor in the Department of Cinema Studies.

For detailed information about the conference program, visit here. For a full list of artists featured in the Re-Significations exhibition, visit here.

About NYU Florence
NYU Florence is headquartered at Villa La Pietra, a 15th century 57-acre estate incorporating five villas, renowned formal gardens, olive groves, and an art collection and museum. Bequeathed to NYU in 1994 by the Acton Family, the Acton Collection at NYU Florence fills the rooms in the interior of Villa La Pietra and consists of more than 5000 objects from a wide range of styles and media including early Italian panel paintings, Flemish tapestries, and important Baroque furniture. The campus offers a strong and aligned humanities curriculum of art history, history, cinema and literature, alongside concentrations in Social Research, Public Policy and Law.

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