Category: Culture

World Premiere of ‘Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me’ in The Season at Villa La Pietra

Coming up in The Season at Villa La Pietra, the World Premiere of PBS biographical film of Sammy Davis Jr. directed by Sam Pollard and written by Laurence Maslon, who will be in attendance to present the film. It is the first documentary to examine the personal and artistic identity of this extraordinary entertainer in the context of the social and racial evolution of the 20th Century.

Sammy Davis Jr. (1925-1990) “was the ultimate hipster, who lived at both the margin and the center, who indeed brought the margin to the center of American life.”

– “Rat Pack’s Sammy Davis Jr. Lives on Through Daughter’s Stories”, NPR, May 8, 2014.

The film screening will be followed by a conversation with Laurence Maslon.

June 20, 6pm

Villa La Pietra

NYU Florence

For more information visit the Villa La Pietra Website.


“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” — Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison. Photo Credits: Athena LeTrelle

In April of 1952, Ralph Ellison, an African American writer, highlighted numerous social and intellectual issues regarding black identities, black nationalism and racial policies that have been existing in the American society with the publishing of his iconic book Invisible Man. In April 2017, 65 years later, we are going to reflect on these issues again by re evaluating the book onto the unsolved problems proposed there. Read more

POP-UP SHOP and Opportunity to Meet the Harakat Sisters

Photos by the Harakat Sisters from the Harakat Sisters’ website

The Harakat sisters will be opening  a pop-up shop at the Middle East Now Festival this Friday, April 7th 2017. Born to a Moroccan father and a Lebanese mother, Nasrine and Sara Harakat have been designing jewellery from a young age. Sara and Nisrine, aged 24 and 20 respectively, study architecture and design in France. With the support of friends and family, they posted their jewellery creations on social media, generating a following that allowed them to sell their collections. Read more

Last Men in Aleppo showing tonight at Cinema La Compagnia

This week, on Tuesday, Last Men in Aleppo will be showing at the Middle East Film Festival in the Cinema la Compagnia on Via Cavour 50r at 8:45 pm tonight. The film is a documentary directed by Firas Fayyad (co-director and editor: Steen Johannessen) about the life of three “White Helmets,” members of a volunteer civil defense group working in Aleppo– Khaled, Mohammed and Subhi. The film follows the volunteers as they rush towards recently bombed buildings to search for survivors and recover the dead. However, as the situation in Aleppo edges towards a full siege, these three men must decide whether they will stay and continue helping those remaining in Aleppo, or whether they will flee before Bashar Al-Assad’s army closes in on the city. The film recently won the Grand Prize at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, and both directors will be present at the screening. The film was released on March 16th, roughly four months after the city of Aleppo fell to Al-Assad’s army in mid-December of last year following a protracted battle and siege. The siege of Aleppo was the subject of much international criticism after the alleged war crimes perpetrated by Assad’s army that took place during the assault on the city garnered the attention of the mainstream media. However, following the end of the siege, it seems the spotlight has been taken off of the situation in Aleppo. Hopefully, this movie will help remind people of the ongoing challenges faced by those still living in Aleppo, now suffering under Assad’s rule.

Aleppo Before and After: Photo Gallery

Since 2011, the Syrian Civil War has devastated the region and displaced thousands. The past five years brought immense damage to Syria and its fate remains uncertain. Prior to the conflict, however, the city of Aleppo stood as a cultural and economic hub. It was Syria’s most populous city greatly noted for its history – it was first mentioned in records dating to around 3000 BC. Today, the streets tell a much different story. Scroll through the photo gallery below to discover Aleppo before and after this terrible crisis.

For more information on the Syrian conflict, join us for “Women on the Front Lines: Kurdish Female Fighters Battling ISIS,” tonight in Villa Sassetti.

Women on the Front Lines: Kurdish Female Fighters Battling ISIS
Featuring Imma Vitelli, International Correspondent for Vanity Fair Italy
March 29, 2017 6:00pm
Villa Sassetti

The 13th Century Citadel of Aleppo was previously marked one of the oldest, largest and most iconic castles in the world. Today, it is marked with post war bullet holes.
Previously these open freeways in Aleppo served as major passageways for many citizens to travel between school and work. Today, they are covered with ruins and demolished buildings.
The Umayyad Mosque was also known as the Great Mosque of Damascus; it was one of the world’s largest and oldest mosques and is often considered the fourth-holiest place in Islam. Today, it is no more a place of peace, but a place of turmoil.
Previously a city known for its beautiful sites and rich culture, Aleppo is now a post-war zone.

Anthony Appiah Lecture on Identity at Villa La Pietra

Anthony Appiah presented a calm, unassuming figure as he stood in front of those gathered at Villa La Pietra Monday to deliver his talk on identity. Appiah began by breaking down our idea of identity into three categories: Nationality, Race and Culture. Appiah examined  the idea of nationality as a form of identity, looking at the concept of the nation and what it represents. Soon, it became clear that even our idea of what a nation should be is primarily a social construct, so fluid and arbitrary that a concrete definition of identity based on nationality is essentially impossible. Appiah looked at some important interpretations of what a state is through history: it has often been founded on the idea of a group of people with a shared sense of ancestry who care about that ancestry, people who share a genetic heritage. However, if we look at the sort of nation that that definition connotes, it is one known as a Romantic State, something along the lines of Benito Mussolini’s ideal Italy. A Romantic State would be one where people share a single consciousness and have no disagreements. To refute this idea, Appiah looked at many nations in Africa, such as Ghana, where despite not having a shared ancestry, (Ghana is composed of many different tribes), a national consciousness is forming nonetheless, as a product of the people of Ghana living together and working together to govern their nation–for evidence of the emergence of this national consciousness, Appiah cites the example of how people from Ghana have adopted kente cloth as the national cloth despite the fact that it is only truly native to one or two of the tribes that make up Ghana. Appiah ended his discussion on nationality by highlighting the importance of the Liberal State: a state where the people may not share the same ideas and same will, but do have a willingness to compromise with one another, to find a middle ground in an effort to move forward. Appiah pointed out that, because there is no definite national essence, a nation represents a medley of cultures and identities, meaning that we need a state where different people are capable of coming together and finding common ground. Read more

A Crash Course in Trans History through the Ages

Because of the work of many transgender activists and the visibility of important transgender figures in the media, increased by Caitlyn Jenner’s very publicized transition, transgender visibility in America is at an all-time high. However, trans people continue to be erased from history all over the world. To combat the historic erasure of trans people and trans identity, here are nine important transgender figures throughout history that you should know.

***Words that are italicized in the biographies are included in a glossary at the end of the post***

Elagabalus became emperor of Rome in 218 AD when they were just 14 years old. While there is no definite information about their gender identity or sexuality, there are many clues that suggest that Elagabalus was not cisgender and heterosexual. They were married five different times, to both men and women, although their marriages never lasted for long. They were known for having affairs with young boys and masquerading as a sex worker then purposely setting themselves up to be caught and beaten by a male guard. They often appeared in court wearing makeup and women’s clothing. Elagabalus also reportedly offered a large sum of money to any doctor who could surgically equip them with female genitalia. Read more

Who is a hero? Here goes (nothing).

There’s an old interview with Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols—I don’t know where to find it, but I’m willing to believe it was Johnny Rotten—where he talks about his heroes, or rather, his lack of heroes. According to Rotten, all heroes are useless and, long story short, he doesn’t have any. It’s curious that this interview resonated in a markedly different way when Fabrizio Ruggiero, a Neapolitan contemporary artist, gave a talk here at NYU Florence three weeks ago. He discussed painting frescoes of activist icons for the United Nations in New York. A bystander said something that connected quite vividly to that old Johnny Rotten interview: “It’s easy to come up with a list of villains throughout history, but much harder to come up with a list of heroes.” Read more

What Is It That Makes Us Who We Are?

Join us for Dialogues by Anthony Appiah, Deborah Willis and Jack Halberstam challenging our assumptions about identity and the consequences of these for society and politics.

Video created by NYU Florence student Arthur de Oliveira.


March 13 6:00pm Mistaken Identities: Culture, Color, Country, Creed – Anthony Appiah

March 14 6:00pm Posing Beauty – Deborah Willis

March 15 6:00pm Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Guide to Gender Variance – Jack Halberstam




Footage Credits:

The Dallas Morning News – Video of Black Lives Matter Protest and Police Shooting in Dallas
The Tree of Life, Dir. Terrence Malik
Vox – Donald Trump’s Refugee Ban, Explained
Vice – World’s Largest Pilgrimage: Hajj Documentary
ABC News – Inside Controversial President of the Philippines’ Bloody Drug War
BBC News – Mo Asumang: Confronting Racism Face to Face
BBC News – Donald Trump Swearing-in Ceremony