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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