Black History Month Florence 2020 Events
The first week of February marks the launch of Black History Month Florence (BHMF), a month-long celebration of Black culture and history with educational events happening throughout the city until March 3. With more than 50 events, the month-long program showcases film, art, food, fashion, history, theater, and dance through tours, lectures, interactive events, and workshops designed for both adults and children.
Justin Randolph Thompson, co-founder, and director of Black History Month Florence is a new media artist, organizer, and educator. His work with the organization is a joyous outcome of his experiences and surroundings growing up in the U.S. and living in Italy. “We’re helping residents and guests understand and appreciate the social wealth of the city by paying attention to the range of people who are here, and who have always been here,” he said.
“Participants will gain a more complex understanding of Blackness in the global context,” said Thompson. “There’s simply no other cultural moment where, on a single platform, there is this spectrum of events,” he added, highlighting the international and transnational scope of artists and performers.
Families are invited to attend an animated and interactive reading about the story of Alessandro Sinigaglia, a WW2 Italian resistance fighter (partigiano) and son of an Italian Jewish man and an African American woman at the Oblate Library, via dell’Oriuolo 24 on February 8 starting at 11 am. For something upbeat consider one of the installments focused on music or dance that are designed to illustrate the history of the genre being presented. On February 9, a Hip-Hop workshop will be conducted by Dre Love at ZAP, vicolo Santa Maria Maggiore from 2:30 to 4:30 pm for young rappers to learn classic moves while learning about the transformative power of music and identity. At the same location and time, Tommy Kuti will also lead another presentation for young rappers on February 16.
Those interested in art can attend one of the shows in galleries focusing on African American history. Check out the February 16 inauguration of the installation “We were up there, we were waiting on them,” at CANGO, via Santa Maria 25 between 5:30 and 9 pm, accompanied by a bilingual conversation with the artist. The workshop, “Investigations of Freedom, Spirit and Love” explores the sounds of freedom and intergenerational dialogue and is carried out with a range of participants across art and music. The project, by Courtney Bryan in collaboration with International School of Florence and The American Academy in Rome, will be presented on February 21 at 4 pm at PARC, Piazzale delle Cascine 4/5/7.
The official closing event is scheduled on February 28 at 9 pm: a concert headlining Pamela Z at the Sala Vanni of Piazza del Carmine. The American singer specializes in solos with signature electronic processing.
EVENTS IN ENGLISH
For the fashion-forward, BHMF offers a presentation by Francesca Passeri on African fashion as an identity statement, “Colors, Fabrics and Patterns,” at ISI Florence, Lungarno delle Grazie 22, on February 4 at 5:30 pm. Creatives can enjoy the spoken word on February 5 at the 6:30 pm poetry reading “Between Two Tongues,” by Leaf Jerlefia followed by a discussion, at Kent State University campus (via Cavour 26) at 6:30 pm. Jerlefia is a Jamaican-Canadian curator, poet and cultural critic, whose work explores notions of diaspora, home and belonging. She is the author of Hope & Hunger Handbound Books—a series of hand-bound artist books featuring poetry and prose inspired by feminism, diaspora and community. Her titles, In Transit and Black Is the Colour of My Hair have been sold at galleries, cultural centers and newsstands.
There will also be two readings for children in English focusing on author Verna Aardema. The first, “Bimwili and the Zimwi” on February 6 will be accompanied by a drum performance, while “Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain” on February 20 will offer a necklace craft workshop. Both are hosted by the Harold Acton Library of the British Institute of Florence, Lungarno Guicciardini 9 at beginning at 5 pm, and includes afternoon tea. The events are open to members of the library with options starting at €6 for a day card.
One of Florence’s most interesting stories will be told on February 17 at 6 pm (with an Italian text available) at the Sala Martino V at Santa Maria Nuova. Sirpa Salenius will be giving a lecture on the life of Sarah Parker Remond, an African American expatriate in Florence. Remond was born a free slave in Massachusetts and later moved on to earn her medical degree at the historic Santa Maria Nuova hospital. Reservations required: email email@example.com. Another educational lecture is “Contrasting Racism via Education and Culture,” with speakers Angelica Pesarini and Giulia Frova at CEA Florence (Piazza della Repubblica 6) at 6 pm on February 27.
A tour in English of Florence’s Evangelical Swiss (aka ‘English’) cemetery, the resting spot of anti-slave activists and abolitionists, will be given by Julia Bolton Holloway on February 22 at 11:30 am. Among those who will be remembered are the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, American Transcendentalist Theodore Parker, and American journalist Richard Hildreth.
Visit “Hypervisions” on the Uffizi website to see the research project “On Being Present,” highlighting the historical context and narratives of the black African figures in paintings hung throughout the Uffizi and Palatine galleries. “Hypervisions” aims to recover and define the black identity in one of the most iconic artistic collections in the world, pushing people to engage in and rewrite Florentine history according to Thompson.
Additionally, BHMF celebrates some of the research of young Afro-descendant artists residing in Italy in a YGBI (Young, Gifted Black and Italian) Residency and Training Program. During the first 10 days of the month, participating artists may attend lectures, conversations, and curative events with Simone Frangi and international curator Andrea Fatona. The dialogues will take place daily, with two events open to the public: the Feb. 2 round table with the artists at The Student Hotel and the Feb. 8 open studio event at OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design) on via Bonifacio Lupi.
Another project includes the Black Archive Alliance (BAA), a research exhibition at The Murate Art District (via dell’Angolo 3), opening at 6 pm on February 6 and running through March 6. The BAA highlights a selection of documents that tell the stories of African populations and their diaspora, as well as their representation in public and private archives and collections. It explores the archives of the Military Geography Institute, the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, and the Laurentian Library, among others.
New this year is also the launch of the first branded chapter of BHMF with Black History Month Bologna. Directed by Patrick Joel Tatcheda Yonkeu, the program emerges as an extension of the Florence’s BHM network and cultural strength.
BHMF ON A GREATER SCALE
Now in its 5th edition, BHMF organized by a network consisting of the municipality of Florence, foundations, institutions, cultural associations, museums, and schools set out to celebrate Africans and Afro-descendants in Italy. Despite the many enriching and interactive events, Thompson underscored that BHMF offers something different from a regular arts or cultural festival. The research-based platform attempts to bring together artists from the roughly 40 partners who are wholly dedicated to this work.
“BHMF isn’t just constrained to February — think of it as a collective moment to showcase the work people are doing year-round,” Thompson said. “Remembering this and highlighting the role we can play as a city in celebrating the richness that diversity brings is one role that Florence has played over the past years.” As Florence was the first and only Italian city with a Black History Month program (until the recent Bologna extension), Thompson highlighted the importance of paving the way on discussions of diversity.
“We’re helping people understand and appreciate the social wealth of the city by paying attention to the range of people who are here, and who have always been here,” he said. “It’s really a high point in the cultural panorama of Florence,” he said. (sabrina medler/additional reporting by thania garcia)