Black Portraitures II: Revisited @ NYU | Feb. 19 & 20

Black Portraitures II: Revisited is already sold out!

That speaks volumes to the importance of this series of conferences spearheaded by Dr. Deborah Willis. To say that the Black Portraiture{s} II Conference that took place in Florence, Italy (May 28-31) was phenomenal does not quite capture the artistic and intellectual vibrancy–chemistry really–of the dynamic scholars and artists that gathered there. Dr. Willis is the University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. She and her wonderful team of staff members from NYU, Harvard University, the Studio Museum in Harlem, among other institutions, executed a seamless conference experience from beginning to end.

BlackPortraituresII_revisited_2

What an honor to be able to present again in New York on a fantastic panel of scholar-performers!  Out of Body: Composing Blackness through Sound, Music, and (Performance) Art with Matthew D. Morrison, Kwami Colemanand Imani Uzuri, moderated by jazz musician Hank Thomas, was one of my most fulfilling professional panels of my career.  Our panel this weekend will offer some new points of engagement for our audience with Jeff Rabhan of the Clive Davis Institute at NYU as our moderator.
Get yourself on the wait-list. We hope you can make it. The conference will also be broadcasted live. Be sure to keep on Twitter with #BlackPortraitures. For the full schedule, see: Black Portraiture[s] Program – Feb 19-20
A heartfelt THANK YOU to Dr. Therí A. Pickens, who offered her take on our previous panel in her blog post, “Scholar Fierce: Doing Dilettante as a Scholar.” Dr. Pickens’s gracious remarks include:

During this panel, I felt like I learned some pretty basic stuff about jazz (how to listen), black figures in classical music, and how to read art (whether sung or materially crafted). In those moments, worlds opened up. I don’t want to overstate the case by saying that the earth moved. However, the tectonic plates of knowledge I have (which tend to move slowly) quaked and changed the terrain of my knowledge… just a bit. 

C’mon, now. THAT has to convince you to check us out!

Out of Body: Composing Blackness Through Sound, Music, and (Performance) Art. 

February 20 at 9:30 a.m.-11 a.m:  NYU’s School of Law, Vanderbilt Hall, Tishman Auditorium. 40 Washington Square South, New York.

By listening to and engaging sonic histories and performances of blackness, this panel seeks to complement/complicate visual representations of blackness in Western art, as we consider how sound is articulated from, outside of, and onto (black) bodies through art, music, and performance. (Dis)Embodied acts of improvising and composing (of sound and identity), the “spirit” of sound, and the politics of (black) sound’s reception and circulation, will be themes that run throughout this panel.
Out of Body Panel
Kwami Coleman, Nikki A. Greene, Imani Uzuri, Matthew D. Morrison, and moderator Hank Thomas. Black Portraitures II Conference, May 30, 2015. Photo by Deborah Jack.

Black Portraitures II: BLACK GIRL MAGIC

Black Portraitures II Conference in Florence, Italy provided the beautiful surroundings, amazing fellowship and excellent scholarship that made for a perfect formula for BLACK GIRL MAGIC. You’ve seen this hashtag: #BlackGirlMagic. You may have also come across #CarefreeBlackGirl (In fact, I think I’m raising one):

These hashtags have come to mean much more in the last year. The #SayHerName movement encourages us all to remember the cis and trans black women who have been killed during altercations with the police or while in police custody, especially in the wake of the possible suicide of Sandra Bland while in a jail cell in Texas. We need to recognize women cross the country who continue to work within social, cultural, political and academic programs, movements, and institutions in order to advance black people across the country and around the world. This is my small tribute to those women I met or reunited with in Florence.

Deborah Willis was the driving force behind the Black Portraitures II conference along with a hardworking team of collaborators from New York University, Harvard University, the Studio Museum in Harlem, among others. Dr. Willis is University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Dr. Willis has worked throughout her entire career to highlight and celebrate the creativity, talent, and beauty of African Americans, primarily (though not exclusively) in photography. Because of her and the wonderful conference staff members, BLACK GIRL MAGIC was palpable throughout our time in Florence.

Dr. Deborah Willis and Dr. Nikki A. Greene. Black Portraitures Reception at La Villa Pietra.
Dr. Deborah Willis and Dr. Nikki A. Greene. Black Portraitures II Reception at Villa La Pietra, Florence, Italy.

As a photographer, curator, historian and documentarian, her commitment to the arts is unequal to most academics today. Her numerous books include Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the PresentOut [o] Fashion Photography: Embracing Beauty; Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers – 1840 to the Present; Let Your Motto be Resistance – African American Portraits; Family History Memory: Photographs by Deborah Willis; VANDERZEE: The Portraits of James VanDerZee; and co-author of The Black Female Body A Photographic History with Carla Williams; Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery with Barbara Krauthamer; and Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs (both titles a NAACP Image Award Winner). Most recently, inspired by Deborah Willis’s book Reflections in Black, Thomas Allen Harris’s film Through a Lens Darkly premiered at Sundance in 2014 (and is now available on Netflix).

THANK YOU, Deborah Willis, for bringing us together so that we can continue to do “the work.” You’re an incomparable mentor and inspiration to so many of us.

Chirlane I. McCray, 1st lady of NYC and Wellesley graduate with Nikki A. Greene
Chirlane I. McCray, 1st lady of NYC and Wellesley graduate with Nikki A. Greene. Black Portraitures II Reception at Villa La Pietra.

There were too many wonderful scholars, artists, students, and art aficionados on hand to name them all (there was so much fangirling going on). I was particularly thrilled to meet Chirlane McCray, New York City’s First Lady (and Wellesley College grad ’76), Spelman College’s new president and art historian, Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell, art historian and curator Dr. Kellie Jones, feminist scholar Michele Wallace, and writer Michaela Angela Davis. All of my Dark Room Faculty Seminar sisters made the time spent there that much more enjoyable, of course. And there were so many magical moments…

We occasionally owned the streets of Florence. Right, Jasmine E. Johnson?!

Betty - BPII

There was a paper on BETTY DAVIS by De Angela Duff! Thanks for the shout out for my “Feminist Funk Power” article during your presentation!

We got to “whip our hair back and forth” when we needed to (Autumn Womack!):

When we heard Imani Uzuri sing on stage during the Out of Body panel on music, we were moved:

We also learned that magic can exist anywhere, even in a hair pick (Thanks, Ebony Coletu!)

Ultimately, all we needed to do was just stand around and see all of the beauty, talent, and intelligence that inhabited the spaces of the Odeon Theater and Villa La Pietra in Florence. As a result, WE WERE ALL BLACK PORTRAITS worthy to behold.

Black Portraitures II: A DARK ROOM ROUNDTABLE

BLACKNESS IN THE PUBLIC SPHERE: A DARK ROOM ROUNDTABLE at the Black Portraitures II Conference in Florence was as great as we all expected. The featured members of  The Dark Room: Race and Visual Culture Faculty Seminar (@raceandvisual) did not disappoint! Kimberly Juanita Brown (Mt. Holyoke), Sandy Alexandre (MIT), Dell Hamilton (Harvard), and Christina Sharpe (Tufts) gave all of us so much to process. Once you begin a session with Dr. Alexandre playing Zebra Katz’s single “Ima Read” (2012), featuring Njena Reddd Foxxx, you know you’re in for a ride! I may be biased as a member of The Dark Room, but this was my favorite panel of the weekend (besides my own). This was one of many #blackgirlmagic moments throughout the weekend. (I’ll have more to say about how much black girls rock in my next post.)

BLACKNESS IN THE PUBLIC SPHERE: A DARK ROOM ROUNDTABLE (adapted from the conference proceedings): This panel engaged blackness in the public sphere as a production of contingent negotiations: history, temporality, visuality, language, and corporeality. In this roundtable featuring members of the Dark Room: Race and Visual Culture Studies Seminar, each speaker not only highlighted a particular aspect of the imagery of blackness as a function of the public sphere, but also considered both the aesthetic and sociopolitical implications of that public appearance. Taken together, the papers demonstrated their writers’ concerted commitment to examining one important question: What are the uses and misuses of blackness in the public sphere, and what work might analysis do in the service of stanching the tide of its appropriation and misappropriation?

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Sandy Alexandre: “Black and Read All Over: Hypervisibled People,” was at once a riff on and a modern-day attempt at expanding the important conversation about race and visuality in America that Ellison’s Invisible Man initiated a little over sixty years ago. Consequently, the theoretical exercise of my paper is prompted by two 21st-century moments: Zebra Katz’s single “Ima Read” (2012), featuring Njena Reddd Foxxx, and a line from Claudia Rankine’s most recent book Citizen: An American Lyric (2014). ), which reads as follows: “Language that feels hurtful is intended to exploit all the ways that you are present.” What work, if any, does the hurtful, yet often intentionally humorous language associated with “throwing shade”—of “reading and proofreading” fellow black people—do to relieve the daily stresses of being discernible and therefore susceptible to being labeled, described, and depicted? In other words does the wit and imaginativeness of such exploitive and hurtful language actually help deflect attention away from the person being subjected to a read? Conversely, when does the humbling or chastening intention of “a read” become a crippling? What, if anything, is the antidote to being returned to your body—returned to your physical presence—via disparaging language? Can anything, in the realm of language or beyond it, successfully fend off such a detailed description of your person?

Kimberly Juanita Brown, “Erykah Badu’s Ambulatory Acts”: In the 2010 music video for her song Window Seat, Erykah Badu uses the layers, the historical resonance, and the site-specific invocation of her native Dallas, Texas in order to locate her black female body against the public encroachments of race and gender. Endeavoring to possess the spectacle of her own flesh as a creative negotiation of meaning-making, Badu inhabits the path around Dealey Plaza, the location of John F. Kennedy’s assassination (grassy knoll and all) in order to reclaim her visibility and the import of her body’s utility in a fluid moving frame. Though it will eventually enter the public sphere as evidence of her transgression (the video is used by police in order to charge her later with disorderly conduct), the video as it stands is the performative engagement of a black artist entering the landscape in order to dismantle some of the power located there.

Dell Hamilton, “Trouble My Water: Public and Private Actions of Self-Performance”: This talk highlighted Hamilton’s art practice and how she regularly deploys her own body and personal memories to engage with the aftermath of trauma and its implications for understanding race, identity, gender, and citizenship. Also included in this discussion is a brief look at the work of several contemporary artists and scholars who critically influence the ongoing research and development of her work. Ultimately, she views her projects as vehicles of adaptation and re-invention that thoughtfully interrogate notions of the public and personal. As a result, these re-imagined spaces serve as fruitful sites for negotiating and examining the role of art and its socio-political relationship to power, belonging, and loss.

Christina Sharpe, “Black Lives: Annotated” Christina Sharpe relayed the demands of and on blackness’s circulations in public spheres. If portraiture is both the “art of creating portraits” and “graphic and detailed description,” how are desires to be seen and to participate in image making attempts to not accede to the deathly demands of the anti-black worlds in which we live and work and struggle to make visible all kinds of Black futures.

Black Portraitures II: Out of Body: Composing Blackness through Sound, Music, and (Performance) Art

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To say that the Black Portraiture{s} II Conference that took place in Florence, Italy (May 28-31) was phenomenal does not quite capture the artistic and intellectual vibrancy–chemistry really–of the dynamic scholars and artists that gathered there. Such an honor to have known Dr. Deborah Willis, her artistic work and scholarship on photography for so many years. Dr. Willis is the University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. She and her wonderful team of staff members from NYU, Harvard University, and other sites, executed a seamless conference experience from beginning to end.

Nikki A. Greene and Deborah Willis

Out of Body: Composing Blackness through Sound, Music, and (Performance) Art with Matthew D. Morrison, Kwami Coleman, and Imani Uzuri was one of my most fulfilling professional panels of my career. Moderated by jazz musician Hank Thomas, the description of our panel is as follows:

By listening to and engaging sonic histories and performances of blackness, this panel seeks to complement/complicate visual representations of blackness in Western art, as we consider how sound is articulated from, outside of, and onto (black) bodies through art, music, and performance. (Dis)Embodied acts of improvising and composing (of sound and identity), the “spirit” of sound, and the politics of (black) sound’s reception and circulation, will be themes that run throughout this panel.

Really, when you have a “spare hour,” hear us talk about our passion surrounding music. The whole panel was phenomenal (if I do say so myself). You won’t regret it. My paper “Facing the Music: Radcliffe Bailey, Sun Ra, and the African Diasporic Body” begins around minute 32. A heartfelt THANK YOU to Dr. Therí A. Pickens, who offered her take on our panel in her blog post, “Scholar Fierce: Doing Dilettante as a Scholar.” Dr. Pickens gracious remarks include:

During this panel, I felt like I learned some pretty basic stuff about jazz (how to listen), black figures in classical music, and how to read art (whether sung or materially crafted). In those moments, worlds opened up. I don’t want to overstate the case by saying that the earth moved. However, the tectonic plates of knowledge I have (which tend to move slowly) quaked and changed the terrain of my knowledge… just a bit. (Girl, thanks, for real!)

C’mon, now. THAT has to convince you to watch. For other recordings from the Black Portraiture{s} II conference, please visit the Black Portraitures website.

My next post will feature photos from BLACKNESS IN THE PUBLIC SPHERE: A DARK ROOM ROUNDTABLE at Black Portraitures II.

Even if you don’t have a full hour (and twelve minutes), here is a two-minute video of Imani singing from my perspective on the stage. I had to follow Imani Uzuris singing performance, so it took me a moment to gather myself.  She’s amazing. Enjoy!

Black Portraitures II in Florence – May 28-May 31

Some will rush to the Venice Biennale, but Florence, this weekend, is where everyone should be! BLACK PORTRAITURES II! The gathering of hundreds will bring some of the most brilliant, avant-garde artists, writers, historians, performers, and scholars from around the world. As the organizers explain, “In this context, ‘Black Portraitures II: Imaging the Black Body and Re-staging Histories,’ 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.” @BlackPortraits2

Out of Body: Composing Blackness

I’m thrilled–and humbled–to participate on the panel on Saturday, May 30, “OUT OF BODY: COMPOSING BLACKNESS THROUGH SOUND, MUSIC, AND (PERFORMANCE) ART,” with Jeff Rabhan, Matthew D. Morrison, Kwame Coleman, Courtney Bryan, and Imani Uzuri. My paper “Facing the Music: Radcliffe Bailey, Sun Ra, and the African Diasporic Body” will be just one iteration of how so many folks wrestle with the musical possibilities of black identity.

The Dark Room: Race and Visual Culture Faculty Seminar (@raceandvisual) will also be on hand with a special panel: BLACKNESS IN THE PUBLIC SPHERE: A DARK ROOM ROUNDTABLE

The Dark Room: Black Portraitures II

There are talented composers and performers on this panel.  I’ve been listening to Imani for the last couple of days to get my mind right. Hope it helps you get yours right, too. I can’t wait to meet Imani and so many others this weekend. Florence is calling…Venice will have to week…until next week.

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