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

—Alfonso Alvares


ReSignifications invokes classical and popular representations of African bodies in European art, culture and history. It moderates and subverts their particular artistic conventions by using the works of contemporary artists to engage in dialogue with the broad historical array of ornamental representations of such bodies. The artists in this exhibition speak against the background
 of the connected histories of Europe and Africa, and the African Diasporas. Its premise is from the ubiquitous models of decorative art known as the “Blackamoors” – furniture, sculptures, paintings, and tapestries – that portray African bodies in service, as domestic workers, soldiers, porters, and custodians of palatial properties” initially made in the 17th century and continuously produced through the 19th and 20th centuries. Our own era is peppered with the resurrections and contemporary renditions of these figures across a variety of media and spaces – from private homes, hotels, and museums, to aspirational fashion and jewelry. The presence of these images pervades contemporary Florence and Venice, (among other Italian and European locales) to an astonishing degree. Who made them and why? What traditions of decorative art production and collection do they represent? What material histories and cultural meanings do they encode? How might contemporary artists interpret these meanings from diverse disciplinary perspectives? How do artists in our own time re-make these meanings through contemporary works of photography, sculpture, and film? ReSignifications confronts these representations 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 Gianbattista Marino (1569-1625): “Nera sì, ma se’ bella.” (“Black yes, but so beautiful”).

“The blackamoors are products of ‘civilizational transitions’ and tensions that continue to plague European cultural spaces. Its discursive dimensions has have intensified in the age of migrations where anxieties abound about race, citizenship and residency of African migrants. The history suggests blackamoors are a combination of African and Moorish identities dissolved into things of decorative leisure and historical ‘objecthood.’ ReSignifications sees migration as a human right in which the attendant prejudices of such rights are highlighted and contested.”


Awam Amkpa
Curator of the Exhibition

Artworks from the Exhibition

Explore the artworks and artists from ReSignifications 2018.

Exhibition Information

ZAC – Cantieri Culturali alla Zisa

Via Paolo Gili 4, Palermo, Italy
Open Tuesday – Sunday 9:30 am to 6:30 pm
June 7 through September 30, 2018


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Project Organizers

Awam Ampka, Curator of the Exhibition

Awam Amkpa trained as a play director/playwright/actor/scholar and filmmaker in Nigeria (Obafemi Awolowo University and Ahmadu Bello University) and Britain (University of Bristol, Bristol). He is a dramatist, documentary filmmaker and scholar of theatre and film, and Associate Professor of Drama and Africana Studies at New York University. Most recently, Amkpa curated art exhibitions, Interwoven Dialogues: Contemporary Art from Africa and South Asia at Aicon Gallery in New York; Wole Soyinka: Antiquities Across Times and Place at Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art at Harvard University; Lines, Motion and Ritual at Magnan Metz Gallery in New York; ReSignifications at New York University’s Florence estate in Italy, Villa La Pietra; an international traveling exhibition, Africa: See You, See Me; and co-curated They Won’t Budge: Africans in Europe at Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts in Brooklyn.

Amkpa is co-founder and co-curator of the annual Real Life Pan-African Documentary Film Festival in Accra, Ghana, dedicated to African and African diasporic filmmaking. He directed documentaries, Winds Against Our Souls, It’s All About Downtown, The Other Day We Went to the Movies, National Images and Transnational Desires, A Very Very Short Story of Nollywood and the feature film Wazobia! Amkpa has written and directed plays and is also the author of Theatre and Postcolonial Desires (Routledge, 2003) and several articles on the Back Atlantic and postcolonial art forms, theatre and film.

Ellyn Toscano, Project Organizer

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.

Robert Ernest Holmes, Project Organizer

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.

Alessandra Di Maio, Palermo Liaison

Alessandra Di Maio is Associate Professor of English and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Palermo, Italy. She divides her time between Italy and the U.S., where she taught at several universities after earning her Ph.D. in comparative literature at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her research includes postcolonial, black, diasporic, migratory, gender studies and transnational cultural identities. She is currently working on a project on African Italian literature and the Black Mediterranean. She has been the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship, a UCLA Mellon postdoctoral fellowship, and a MacArthur Research and Writing Grant. Among her publications are Tutuola at the University, The Italian Voice of a Yoruba Ancestor (Bulzoni, 2000); An African Renaissance (Palermo Press, 2006); Wor(l)ds in Progress: A Study of Contemporary Migrant Writings (Mimesis, 2008); and Dedica a Wole Soyinka (Dedica Edizioni, 2012). She has translated into Italian several authors, among them Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, with whom she has conceived the poetry anthology Migrazioni/Migrations (2016).

Takako Sakamoto, Associate Curator

Henone Girma, Associate Curator

Alexis Mountcastle, Curatorial Intern