Category: Culture

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

Anthony Appiah On Why We Are Wrong About Identity

Kwame Anthony Appiah
Kwame Anthony Appiah

Born in London and raised in Ghana, Kwame Anthony Appiah is a multicultural individual who has lived through a multitude of experiences.

His father was a Ghanaian lawyer and politician, a Member of Parliament, an Ambassador and a President of the Ghana Bar Association. His mother was an English novelist and children’s write who was also active in the social, philanthropic and cultural life of his home town.

As a proud alumni of Cambridge University, he then went on to teach at some of the world’s top universities, including Harvard, Yale and Cornell. He has also been a Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University since 2014. He has delivered multiple talks on diverse topics (such as identity and religion) to various institutions across the globe and has published widely in African-American literary and cultural studies. In 1992, he won an award for his book In My Father’s House in which he explores the role of African and African-American intellectuals in determining and shaping African cultural life. Read more

A study of Nicole Miller, The Conductor

Photo by Timothy Schenck, courtesy of High Line Art The Conductor, Nicole Miller
From The Conductor, Nicole Miller

Nicole Miller, a Tucson, Arizona-born female artist released a seven-minute silent video in 2009 entitled The Conductor, a video documenting “individuals making a decision about how to represent themselves.” This piece was her very first solo exhibition, at LAXART.

Nicole Miller was born in 1982. Belonging to the ‘Millennial generation’, she grew up during the ‘digital explosion’, and maybe this can help us understand her decision to use an electronic art form for her project.

Simply by seeing images extracted from her video, you can get a sense of the preconceptions and bias people may have of the man portrayed. The man is seen jerking his head, seemingly undergoing body spasms and manic-like episodes, from states of extreme joy to extreme anger and/or pain. And the first impression the video usually makes is that of a mentally ill man undergoing a manic attack. Read more

Students Are Invited to Respond Creatively to Villa La Pietra’s Acton Collection as part of this Spring’s ‘Picturing Women’ project

As part of the Picturing Women: Constructions of Gender in the Acton Collection and Contemporary Society series, NYU Florence students are invited to respond creatively to the representations of women in the art of Villa La Pietra’s Acton Collection and to participate in an end of semester Exhibition in the Villa’s Collection alongside professional artists.

'Cleopatra', Florence, Orazio Fidani, oil on canvas, mid. 17th c. Camera blu, Villa La Pietra
‘Cleopatra’, Florence, Orazio Fidani, oil on canvas, mid. 17th c. Camera blu, Villa La Pietra

Project Requirements:

  1. Attend one or more ‘Picturing Women’ Artist Workshops held throughout the semester
  2. Take advantage of ‘Open Collection Opportunities’ for students and spend private time viewing the art in the Acton Collection
  3. Respond creatively to the representations of women in the Acton Collection with your own creative work in a medium of your choosing.

‘Open Collection’ Dates and Times:

February 9, 15 and 20, from 10am-5pm

No reservation required.

Deadline for the Submission of Student Projects: April 24, 2017

Exhibition Opening: May 2, 2017

For further information contact Cristina Fantacci at or 055 5007 210

Learn more about the series on the Villa La Pietra website here.

Previous Project:

See how NYU Florence students responded creatively to the art in the Acton Collection in the Fall 2015 project Food: Signs, Symbols, Significations (and Sex?) Reading Art in the Villa La Pietra Collection here.

NYU Florence Student Nicole Chan, 'Persephone', Fall 2015.
NYU Florence Student Nicole Chan, ‘Persephone’, Fall 2015.

The pomegranate is a significant symbol across cultures. The fruit has hundreds of seeds within its hull, causing many to associate it values of fertility and womanhood. In the Greek myth Hades and Persephone, eating the fruit prompts Persephone’s marriage to the lord of the underworld and seals her subsequent fate. This image Persephone is inspired by ideas of emerging adulthood and the irreversibility of time. The disfigured doll represents changes in body as one leaves childhood . The model mirrors the doll’s position, and the two almost embrace each other. They are two halves of a whole, each encapsulating a different part of life like a butterfly in the midst of metamorphosis.

– Nicole Chan

Black Femininity Series: The Millennial Meets the Movement


Truthfully, I have a very boring bucket list. Actually, I have a non-existent bucket list. There are only a few things that I want to accomplish before my death, and since these things are so few I never felt the need to list them. These wishes are more like pipe dreams – things I passionately want but would never expect to actually happen…until one actually did.

I have always been fascinated with African-American history in the US. My lullabies were negro spirituals. My cartoons were 90s sitcoms with all Black casts. My bedtime stories were newspaper articles about the Civil Rights Movement. I had the urge to march before I could walk. So when the opportunity arrived to meet Angela Davis, I stopped rushing to my Italian class and decided that I would be a little late.

Read more

Navigating Unity in Diversity: Black Femininity Series

A day before the iconic Angela Davis and feminist thinker Gina Dent spoke to the New York University Florence community about systemic racism within American institutions, two NYU Florence students organized a series of panels to discuss how race and gender impact the representations and interactions of Black women globally. The event was entitled the “Black Femininity Series.”  Six Black women, leaders in their respective fields, shared their experiences and reflected on how they combat the prejudices they face that affect their professional relationships and self-perceptions.

I was one of the organizers of the event alongside my friend and colleague Rahni Davis. Rahni and I are young Black women ourselves, passionate about diversity, promoting more nuanced representations of Black women and their role in society, and bringing this diverse conversation to the global forum in Florence, Italy. On a cold October evening together we jotted down a proposal for the Black Femininity Series in the basement of Rahni’s home stay. The idea ascended to heights we never anticipated. Read more

Black Femininity Series: Rachel Wang and her Project 1000 Londoners

Black Femininity Panelist Rachel Wang is sharing with the NYU Florence community access to her incredible work with the project 1000 Londoners, produced under her film production company Chocolate Films.

To Wang, this work is a source of inspiration and shines light on the extraordinary black women that exist in our world today.

1000 Londoners Trailer




Alexandra Burke



Black Femininity Series Speaker Spotlights: Social Entrepreneur Saran Kaba Jones

Photo Credit: Forbes Magazine
Photo Credit: Forbes Magazine

Saran Kaba Jones is the Founder and CEO of FACE Africa, a community development organization working to strengthen water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure and services in rural communities across sub-Saharan Africa. Since launching FACE Africa in January 2009, the organization has funded over 50 projects and reached 25,000 people in rural Liberia. Prior to founding FACE Africa, Ms. Jones worked at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University and as an Investment Project Manager for the Singapore Economic Development Board. She is currently a Board Member of the UN Women Civil Society Advisory Group West/Central Africa and is also a member of the U.S. State Department’s International Information Programs. She has been listed by The Guardian as one of Africa’s 25 Top Women Achievers, by Forbes magazine as one of the 20 Youngest Power Women In Africa and by Black Enterprise as one of 10 International Women of Power. Saran is a frequent speaker on topics including water infrastructure, entrepreneurship and gender equality and has served on panels at the World Economic Forum, Harvard University, MIT, the London School of Economics, and the African Union. Read more