Phil Toledano: Jester of the Mundane

thumb_rw1a5395_1024Below is a back and forth between NYU Florence students Batel Mann (who conducted the interview) and Kira Boden-Gologorsky (who filmed and edited the interview) regarding their impressions and opinions of Phil Toledano both in person and as an artist. Batel is in bold and Kira is in standard.

I was sitting on the couch with my legs crossed, nervously waiting. Considering I’d had no previous experience in interviewing, I was a bit nervous and wondered why I’d volunteered to do this in the first place.  I hastily took a breath and reminded myself that this was too great of an opportunity to pass up. As an aspiring filmmaker, both the conceptual and aesthetic qualities of Phil Toledano’s art fascinated me, and I couldn’t wait to pick his brain and find out where all of this creation comes from.

He approached 15 minutes late, shoulders slightly stooped as he walked up the pebble path to Villa Sassetti on the NYU Florence campus. I stood between the two cameras I had set up facing the couch, Batel seated on the right nervously fiddling with her fingers and adjusting her shirt.

“Sorry I’m an ass. I thought the interview was at 5:30!”

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R2X Student Spotlight #1: Helen You

This is a series of spotlights of the members of the R2X Student Team who helped organize the successful ‘Teach-In’ in Florence and are helping bring the R2XII-NY to New York. The R2xII-NY Conference will take place on October 28, 2016 from 9am-5pm at NYU’s Hemmerdinger Hall. RSVP here

Helen You played a crucial role in helping to develop the R2X conference in Florence while spending her freshman year in the Liberal Studies program at NYU Florence. She was part of the original committee that met with NYU Florence Executive Director Ellyn Toscano to help design the conference, strongly representing the students’ point of view, and pushing for the inclusion of a more interactive component in the conference that would allow strong student participation and interaction with the speakers. Helen worked with the NYU Florence Digital Studio to make it happen and, the day of the ‘Teach-In’, students participation through the Poll Everywhere platform was a great success.

Helen is currently a sophomore at New York University in Liberal Studies and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in International Relations. Helen was born in Seoul, South Korea and has since grown up in Westchester, New York. A previous intern at La Pietra Dialogues, Helen has a passion for foreign affairs specifically in the realm of international human rights and the impact of foreign policy on the global economy. Her interests include female leadership, gender equality, travelling, soccer, music and history. She plans on attending law school after graduation and pursue a career in the State Department in Washington D.C. as a Foreign Service officer.

You can also check out Helen’s thoughts on how international education has impacted her understanding of ‘Unity in Diversity’ in the speech she was invited to give, along with a panel of NYU Florence students, by the Mayor of Florence at his annual Global Mayor’s Conference in Florence’s historic Palazzo Vecchio in Fall 2015 here.

Machiavelli on Trump


Un principe che può fare ciò che vuole è pazzo — a prince who can do what he wants is crazy.”
(Niccoló Machiavelli)

This was one of the opening statements made by Stephen Holmes, an NYU Law professor who led a La Pietra Dialogue entitled “Machiavelli’s Advice to Citizens on How to Chose a Leader,” a continuation of the Fall dialogue series: Inside American Politics. Professor Holmes both addressed the potential reasons for the rise of Trump through a Machiavellian lens and applied Machiavellian ideas as suggestions on how to choose a leader. Holmes’ talk applied the 500 year old advice of Florentine political theorist Niccoló Machiavelli to the upcoming presidential election.

Nicolò Machiavelli worked as a diplomat for the Florentine Republic during the exile of the Medici family. Upon their return to power, Machiavelli was jailed and wrote The Prince, which described a ruthless and unforgiving method of political reign. The Prince established Machiavelli as the father of political theory and outlined the ruling dogma of what was eventually called Machiavellian politics. Read more

Defining Libero

Porcelain Flowers

Libero was the final event for NYU Florences GO Italy! Orientation series. Students were provided a brief introduction into Italian culture and life in Florence at the Cinema Odeon during their first week here. One aspect of Italian culture that was emphasized was the question Where are you from?Most people would answer the country they were born in, or their ethnicity, but Ellyn Toscanowho introduced the speakerspointed out that this question has a different significance to Italians. Where are you from?asks you what your city or region is, and almost immediately people can make guesses about who you are; they can create assumptions about what your mannerisms, characteristics, and beliefs are. Going into the Libero exhibit I thought about this question of Where are you from?How does Ai Weiwei think about place in relation to identity? I wondered why Libero was necessary for all students to view as a follow-up for our global orientation session. What was the relation of identity to Libero?

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Issa Touma wins the British Film Institute Award for Best Short Film

Congratulations to Syrian photographer Issa Touma for winning the British Film Institute’s 2016 Award for Best Short Film for his ‘9 Days – From My Window in Aleppo’. The film chronicles the start of the Syrian uprising in the city of Aleppo. Entirely shot from his bedroom window over the course of nine days, he presents an unparalleled, unprecedented angle of this war.

Jury president Mat Kirkby said: “Not only does his documentary show what one person, one camera and a restricted view of an alleyway can do to reveal something as complex, confusing, and terrifying as a civil war, but also it demonstrates the power of film to reach the wider world, and make those of us more fortunate re-assess the freedom we take for granted.”

The film has just recently received a nomination for a European Film Award. 

Check out the film’s trailer here:

Touma joined us for the Dialogue ‘Art in a War Zone: Everyday Life in Syria‘ in Fall 2015. Read this post about the Le Pont Organization, which Touma founded, by Yasmyn Camp (LPD ’15) ‘Art in a War Zone’ and this essay by Ismail Ibrahim (LPD ’15) ‘The Power of a Photo‘.  And you can see the video of Touma’s dialogue with us on the Dialogue page.

Congratulations Issa!


News from Abroad: The U.S. Election

Following the town hall debate last week between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the spotlight from news sources around the world is back on the U.S. elections. From China to Brazil and the United Kingdom, we take a look at the views from abroad of the U.S. elections this past week.

U.S. press generally favoring Clinton over Trump by Kira Boden-Gologorsky

Unsurprisingly, the U.S. coverage of last week’s first presidential debate was ample. The analysis from ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ media was predictable.

The New York Times, a center-left news outlet, ran numerous articles on the debate, ranging from criticism of Donald Trump’s tactics, to how and why Hillary Clinton won the debate, to a general fact check of the candidates’ statements. CNN, a moderate news source, featured a lot of empirical data from the event, and generally favored Hillary over Trump. The Rush Limbaugh show, a conservative radio news source, favored Trump.

Brazilian press concerned about anti-free trade platforms of both candidates by Juliana Coelho

As Brazil has been facing a time of political and economic hardships, which include the recent impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and continuous money laundering investigations, the American presidential election isn’t considered a priority in the media. However, both candidates have faced criticism in Brazil: On one side, a Brazilian blog has gone viral for alleging that Trump called Brazilian immigrants “Latino pigs,” infuriating both Brazilians who live abroad and at home; on the other side, the impeachment of Dilma had a slightly negative effect on Hillary’s campaign, as in 2015 she used Brazil as an example of why the U.S. should also elect a female president. Also, considering more practical issues, Brazil’s commercial relations with the United States seem to worry Brazilians. Brazil was not mentioned in the debates. Both candidates are against future trade partnerships, which could potentially lead Brazil to greater economic disadvantage due to isolation and exclusion.

Sources: BBC Brazil, Globo (both neutral regarding foreign politics) and

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R2X Speaker Spotlight #2: Yemane Demissie


Yemane Demissie teaches film, television and documentary production, writing and cinema studies classes at NYU’s Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film & Television at the Tisch School of the Arts. An independent writer, producer, and director, Yemane has received numerous awards for his work including the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, the Berlin Prize, and the California Arts Council Artists Fellowship. His work centers around the history of Ethiopia and modern life of Ethiopians. Yemane’s narrative and documentary films have been released in theaters in the United States, Canada, Germany, and in Britain. They have also screened in over fifty international film festivals.

Yemane is currently in postproduction for “The Quantum Leapers: Ethiopia 1930-1975,” a social history documentary series that explores and analyzes the efforts of three generations of western educated Ethiopians to transform their country “from an ancient medieval empire into a modern nation state”.  He is also developing “…and then the rains return” a narrative feature about the struggles of survivors in a small rural community in Ethiopia during the catastrophic influenza pandemic of 1918. (Source: NYU Tisch )

Find out more about the Race, Racism and Xenophobia in a Global Context II – New York Dialogue here and RSVP to attend here

Here is a short video of Yemane talking about his most recent series.

Also read an interview with Yemane on his 2011 film on Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia during the Italo-Ethiopian war

R2X Speaker Spotlight #1: Peggy Cooper Davis


Peggy Cooper Davis will be giving a talk on ‘The Enduring Constitutional and Cultural Legacy of United States Slavery’ at the upcoming Race, Racism and Xenophobia in a Global Perspective II – New York Dialogue at NYU’s Hemmerdinger Hall on October 28, 2016. 

Peggy Cooper Davis is the John S. R. Shad Professor of Lawyering and Ethics at NYU Law School. Cooper Davis joined the NYU Law faculty in September 1983 after having served for three years as a judge of the Family Court of the State of New York and having engaged in the practice and administration of law during the preceding 10 years. She has published two books and more than 50 articles and book chapters, most notably in the premier journals of Harvard, Yale, NYU, and Michigan law schools. Her analyses of cross-racial interactions within the legal system have been widely cited and used in legal training. Her analyses of judicial reliance on the social and psychological sciences have been pivotal to thinking about child placement decision-making in both public law and matrimonial contexts. Her 1997 book Neglected Stories: The Constitution and Family Values and her book-in-progress Enacting Freedom illuminate the importance of anti-slavery and civil rights traditions as guides to the scope and meaning of Fourteenth Amendment liberty interests. Her recent book Enacting Pleasure is a collection of essays exploring the implications of Carol Gilligan’s relational psychology. Davis’s scholarship has also influenced the critique and evolution of legal pedagogy. She now directs the Experiential Learning Lab, through which she develops learning strategies for addressing interpretive, interactive, ethical, and social dimensions of legal practice. Davis has served as chair of the board of the Russell Sage Foundation and as a director of numerous not-for-profit, for-profit, and government entities.

Find out more about the Race, Racism and Xenophobia in a Global Context II – New York Dialogue here and RSVP to attend here

You can read Cooper Davis’ full bio on the website of NYU Law School here

Here is an interesting 2001 article Davis wrote on the neglected stories of African Americans:


Explorations into Plurality


On September 28th, NYU Florence students congregated in front of the Odeon Cinema, abuzz in the air, each of us awaiting the reveal of the Ai Weiwei.Libero exhibit. Before our exclusive tours, we sat down with NYU Art and Public Policy professors Pato Hebert and Hentyle Yapp and art curator Arturo Galansino to discuss the larger implications of Ai weiwei’s work as an art activist. Hentyle Yapp, introduced by Ellyn Toscano–founder of La Pietra Dialogues, spoke succinctly on Ai Weiwei’s previous art works in relation to Chinese history and their respective political motivations. A premier example explained by Hentyle Yapp is Ai Weiwei’s use of repetition.

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