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'ReSignifications: Imagining the Black Body and Re-Staging Histories' opens in Florence
Lyle Ashton Harris (American, born 1965), Blackamoor Study #2.

FLORENCE.- The highly anticipated multi-media art exhibition examining and deconstructing the image of the black body through a groundbreaking and unique artistic dialogue, ReSignifications opened May 29 and runs though August 29, 2015 at the historic Villa La Pietra, New York University’s Florence campus, and The Bardini Museum in Florence, Italy. The exhibition draws a remarkable collection of artists from around the world, including Carrie Mae Weems, Fred Wilson, Mickaline Thomas, Zanele Muholi, Omar Diop, Peju Alatise, and Mary Sibande, among many others.

Curated by Nigerian playwright, director, filmmaker, scholar and New York University Professor of Drama and Africana studies Awam Amkpa, 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.

“ReSignifications is 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.”

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. In tandem with ReSignifications, Villa La Pietra hosts the latest installment in an ongoing series of scholarly conferences about black imagery, Black Portraiture[s] II, which was established by Henry Louis Gates, Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and Manthia Diawara, filmmaker and director of the Institute of Afro-American Affairs at NYU. This year’s conference is the sixth, and is directed by NYU Arts Professor and chair of the department of photography and imaging at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts Deborah Willis.

New York City's First Lady Chirlane McCray delivered opening remarks at Black Portraiture[s] II on Friday, 29 May. The First Lady discussed the significant role of art and culture in helping young people develop a healthy self-image and the de Blasio administration’s efforts to help New York City cultural institutions become more diverse and inclusive. McCray has a strong interest in culture, particularly in relation to the African American community, and her participation in the conference strengthened connections between the art community in New York and the rest of the world.

"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 ReSignifications. “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.”

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