Launched to consider the roles of art and culture in establishing the narratives of people of color, the conference was inspired by a course taught by Sarah Lewis ’97, assistant professor of history of art and architecture and African and African American studies, who also moderated parts of the event.
Kasseem Dean, known in the music world as Swizz Beats, was used to seeing Gordon Parks’ photographs in meetings with business partners and at the homes of friends who were not African American. It was far more unusual to see the artwork in front of the people Parks represented.
"In terms of representation and volume, we have to work on both fronts," says Henry Louis Gates, Jr., director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University and board member of the Whitney Museum of Art. "The Whitney is never going to have only black art in it or the Met. For American culture to be represented, it must be integrated."
The Cooper Gallery’s spring 2018 exhibition “ReSignifications” links classical and popular representations of African bodies in European art, culture and history as it interprets and interrogates the “Blackamoor” trope in Western culture that emerged at the intersection of cross-cultural encounters shaped by centuries of migration, exchange, conquest, servitude and exile.
Through May 5, the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art presents “ReSignifications,” a reimagined slice of a 2015 exhibit staged at New York University’s Villa La Pietra in Florence, Italy. Guest curator Awam Amkpa has whittled down the most poignant pieces of work, which completely overhaul the depiction of black bodies over time.
‘ReSignifications,” at the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art, is a pointed object lesson. What can we learn from blackamoors, the servile black figures in art history?
Thirty-six blackamoor statues, mostly made in the 18th and 19th centuries, reside in New York University’s Villa La Pietra, a historic home housing an art collection in Florence. Curator Awam Amkpa invited an international slate of artists to respond to these figures for a 2015 exhibition there.
De la Fuente has described Grupo Antillano as a forgotten visual arts and cultural movement that thrived between 1978 and 1983. The group proclaimed the centrality of African practices in national culture. For them, Africa and the surrounding Caribbean was not a dead cultural heritage but a vibrant, ongoing and vital influence that continued to define what it means to be Cuban.