Ellyn Toscano, NYU Florence Executive Director and Founder and Director of La Pietra Dialogues, participated in the colloquium Archipelago Nero with Nobel Prize winning writer Wole Soyinka and NYU Professor Awam Amkpa in Palermo over the weekend. As guests of the Mayor of Palermo and University of Palermo Professor Alessandra Di Maio, Toscano and Amkpa spoke about the ground breaking ‘ReSignifications: Imagining the Black Body and Re-Staging Histories‘ multi-media art exhibition and artistic dialogue, held in Florence at Villa La Pietra and The Bardini Museum in 2015.
ReSignifications 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.
“The conference [Black Portraiture[s] II] and [ReSignifications] exhibition provided a rich opportunity to deconstruct, compare, and contextualize the myriad portrayals of the black body in Western societies from multidisciplinary angles…Villa La Pietra was 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,” Toscano said. Amkpa added, “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.”
The discussion in Palermo was a prelude to a possible expansion of the project to Palermo and to a study of the Mediterranean Region as a whole. Stay tuned for further developments.
To learn more about NYU Florence’s 2015 conference Black Portraiture II and exhibition ReSignifications visit the project website here.