“My color does not disfigure my honor or my wit.”

—Alfonso Alvares


ReSignifications links classical and popular representations of African bodies in European art, culture and history. It moderates and subverts artistic conventions by using the works of contemporary artists from Africa, Europe, North and South America and the Caribbean to engage in dialogue with the broad historical array of ornamental representations of African bodies. The artists in this exhibition speak against the background of the connected histories of Europe and Africa, and the African Diasporas. Starting from the ubiquitous model of decorative art known as the “Blackamoor,” ReSignifications confronts the representation of African bodies in various forms of service — as domestic servants, courtiers, soldiers, priests, and others – with audacious presentations of such bodies as protagonists of histories and cultures. The exhibition combines styles across time and place to reframe and refract the history of representing African and African diasporic bodies. The unusual juxtaposition of these works gives the exhibition its texture and flavor, thereby underscoring the words of Giambattista Marino (1569-1625): “Nera sì, ma se’ bella.” (“Black yes, but so beautiful”).

Awam Amkpa

Resignifying Florence

Directed by Mariona Lloreta
Cinematography by Alex Bravo
Produced by Awam Amkpa


The exhibition ReSignifications interprets the “Blackamoor” trope in Western culture. This tradition of decorative art emerged at the intersection of cross-cultural encounters shaped by centuries of migration, exchange, conquest, servitude, and exile.

Our display will juxtapose selections of these ornamental images from the historic collections of New York University’s Villa La Pietra, with reinterpretations and counter-narratives of the Black body from a spectrum of contemporary artistic angles at Museo Bardini, Fondazione Biagiotti Progetto Arte, and Villa La Pietra. Present day photographers, sculptors, filmmakers, musicians, designers, choreographers, historians and cultural theorists will respond to artists and designers of yore, to probe the many meanings of ReSignifications, to infuse inert objects of art with voice and presence across the ages in this exhibition and its catalog.

BLACK PORTRAITURE{S} II: Imaging the Black Body and Re-Staging Histories

Conference Website

Held in Florence, Italy, in May 28-31, 2015—as a sequel to five conferences held over the past six years—this conference offers comparative perspectives on the historical and contemporary role played by photography, art, film, literature, and music in referencing the image of the black body in the West.

“Black Portraitures II: Imaging the Black Body and Re-staging Histories,” brings together artists and scholars from an assortment of disciplines and practices, including art history, fashion, dance, theater, and studio art, in wide-ranging conversations about imaging the black body. In this context, this conference explores the impulses, ideas, and techniques undergirding the production of self-representation and desire, and the exchange of the gaze from the 19th century to the present day in fashion, film, art, and the archives.

Black Italia Lecture Series 2014-2015

How are Africans represented in the Italian imagination? How is Italy changing under the pressure of immigration?  For the academic year 2014-2015 professor Alessandra Di Maio organized an exploration of the significance of Black Italy.

Escaping from Hyenas: From Eritrea to Lampedusa

Oct 01 2014 / 18:00 / Villa Sassetti

Record numbers of people are embarking on a perilous journey through the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean sea to the... Learn More >

A Nation of Migration: Voices and Visions from Africa

Oct 20 2014 / 17:00 / Villa La Pietra

Dialogue with Senegalese-Italian writer Pap Khouma and Awam Amkpa, New York University Learn more about this event on the LPD... Learn More >

Disruptive Reality: Black Africans in Renaissance Italy

Nov 06 2014 / 18:00 / Villa La Pietra

Dialogue with Historian Kate Lowe, Queen Mary, University of London Learn more about this event on the LPD website... Learn More >

Imperfect Post Colonialism: Rapping from the Land of Punt

Nov 18 2014 / 18:00 / Villa La Pietra

Dialogue with Somali-Italian writer Ubah Critina Ali Farah, Giovanna Bellesia, Smith College, and Isabella Ferretti, 66thand2nd Publishing House.  Introduced by... Learn More >

‘Cara Mamma, Sono in Africa’: Cameras, Soldiers, Empires Dialogue with Maaza Mengiste

Mar 03 2015 / 18:00 / Villa La Pietra

Novelist Maaza Mengiste will discuss her forthcoming book set during the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and her fascinating... Learn More >

Filming the Mediterranean Crossing: South and North of Lampedusa

Apr 08 2015 / 18:00 / Villa Sassetti

Filming the Mediterranean Crossing: South and North of Lampedusa A Dialogue with filmmakers Dagmawi Yimer and Andrea Segre, moderated by Alessandra... Learn More >

Mare Nostrum, Mundus Noster | Our Sea, Our World: Refugees Crossing the Mediterranean and the Humanitarian Response

Apr 13 2015 / 18:00 / Villa Sassetti

War, displacement, and economic instability are driving larger numbers of people to abandon their homes in places like Syria, Eritrea... Learn More >

Surviving Lampedusa and Moving North

Apr 14 2015 / 18:00 / Villa Sassetti

A dialogue with Imma Vitelli and Amr Adam Vanity Fair Italy correspondent Imma Vitelli will talk with three Eritrean survivors of... Learn More >

View all upcoming events at Villa La Pietra >

Images from the Black Portaiture[s] II Conference

Florence, Italy
May 28-31, 2015

Project Organizers

Robert Ernest Holmes

Robert Ernest Holmes earned a B.A. from Washington Square College in 1966 and a J.D. from NYU School of Law in 1969, prior to practicing law in the entertainment department of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison. Most recently, he was Executive Vice President of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Music Group and President of its music publishing companies. Prior to his twenty-five years at Sony, Mr. Holmes was Vice President of the Arista Music Publishing Group and General Counsel of Motown Records and Film works. Mr. Holmes was a recipient of NYU’s Alumni Achievement Award in 1998 and Washington Square College’s Alumni Distinguished Service Award in 1992. He is also the past President of the Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association and is an original co-founder of the Black American Law Students Association. Presently on the board of NYU’s Africa House, Mr. Holmes also served on the boards of the Constitutional Rights Foundation and the Liberace Foundation in Las Vegas.

Learn more > Robert Ernest Holmes
Ellyn Toscano

Ellyn Toscano

NYU Florence

Ellyn Toscano is Executive Director of New York University Florence. She is the founder of La Pietra Dialogues and the producer of The Season, a summer festival which assembles artists, writers, musicians and public intellectuals to produce new works or reinterpretations of classics. Before arriving at New York University Florence, Ms. Toscano served as Chief of Staff and Counsel to Congressman Jose Serrano of New York for two decades, was his chief policy advisor on legislative, political and media concerns and directed his work on the Appropriations Committee. Ms. Toscano also served as counsel to the New York State Assembly Committee on Education for 9 years and served on the boards of several prominent arts and cultural institutions in New York City, including The Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. She served on the board of trustees of the International School of Florence, Italy. A lawyer by training, Ms. Toscano earned an LLM in International Law from New York University School of Law.

Learn more > Ellyn Toscano
Awam Ampka

A dramatist, documentary filmmaker and scholar of theatre and film. He is Associate Professor of Drama at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and Associate Professor in Africana Studies Social and Cultural Analysis in NYU’s College of Arts and Sciences and a scholar of theatre and film. He is the co-founder and co-curator of the annual Real Life Pan- African Documentary Film Festival in Accra, Ghana, a festival dedicated to African and African Diasporic filmmaking and a curator of the photographic exhibition “Africa: See You, See Me” and co-curator of photo exhibition “They Won’t Budge: Africans in Europe”.

Learn more > Awam Ampka
Deborah Willis

Deborah Willis, Ph.D., is University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and has an affiliated appointment with the College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Social & Cultural, Africana Studies, where she teaches courses on photography and imaging, iconicity, and cultural histories visualizing the black body, women, and gender. Her research examines photography’s multifaceted histories, visual culture, the photographic history of Slavery and Emancipation; contemporary women photographers and beauty.

Learn more > Deborah Willis