‘Persistence’: Florence’s Black History Month ’21
Black History Month (BHM) began in the United States during the 1970s with the aim to recognize the central role of African Americans in U.S. history. Florence began Black History Month Florence (BHMF) in 2016 with a mission to celebrate narratives of African descendent and diasporic communities in Italy. In 2018, Bologna become the second Italian city to provide cross-cultural events during BHM via Black History Month Bologna (BHMB).
This year, BHMF will see 67 events ranging from art exhibitions, concerts, and talks put on in collaboration with the European University Institute (EUI), NYU Florence, and Temple University. The events will be virtual and open to the public free of charge.
The sixth edition of BHMF will follow the theme of “Persistence” (Ostinato). Co-founder and director Justin Randolph Thompson hopes the rich programming will create a sense of community and amplify BHM nationally. Co-director and Vice President of BHMF Janine Gäelle Dieudji emphasizes the necessity of celebrating Afro-descendent and diasporic cultures not only during the month of February and in the Tuscan region, but every month of the year and all around the country. In fact, the new initiative “Black History Beyond the Walls” hopes to expand BHM throughout Italy.
For more information on registration and to view the entire 2021 calendar with Zoom links to each event, visit BHMF’s website.
“On Being Present,” a virtual research project put on in collaboration between BHMF and the Uffizi Gallery, will return for its second edition beginning Feb. 20. Launched in 2020, the project highlights histories and African figures present in the paintings throughout the Uffizi Gallery and Palazzo Pitti. “On Being Present” aims to celebrate Blackness within one of the most iconic art collections. To view the exhibition, visit the website.
In addition, the Murate Art District (MAD) will host the Black Archive Alliance, a research project that began in 2018 and highlights the stories of African descendants and the African diaspora. In particular, MAD will collaborate with BHMF to curate “The Isle of Venus” by Kiluanji Kia Henda, who won the Frieze Artist Award in 2017. The exhibition is located in the Anna Banti room in MAD and will respond to the sociological and psychological impact of transformations in urban spaces throughout history. MAD will also curate Gettare il sasso e nascondere la mano, (“Throw a Rock and Hide the Hand”), which is dedicated to the five artists (Binta Diaw, Francis Offman, Victor Fotso Nyie, Raziel Perin, and Emmanuel Yoro) who were selected by the prestigious YGBI Research Residency program. The artists’ personal works address narratives on spirituality, colonialism, and activism. Both exhibitions will be open to the public Mondays and Thursdays from 2:30 to 7:30 through Feb. 28. To register, email email@example.com.
There will also be a series of concerts organized by the former refectory Sala Vanni and Musicus Concentus. Each concert will follow the theme: “And the Noise Becomes a Voice,” (E’ il clamore è divenuto voce), which invokes the intimacy music can create. Friday, February 20 at 9:15 pm will welcome David Blank, from his home region, Le Marche, who will sing soul and gospel music. Tommy Kuti (Tolulope Olabode Kuti) will close on Feb. 26 at 9 pm. Born in Nigeria, Kuti moved to Italia when he was two years old and finished his undergraduate degree in Cambridge. His style is rap and is not just spoken in Italian, but also in American English and French. The first performance on February 12 which featured Dre Love (Andre Halyard) with Drumz & Guido Masini will remain online for a month. Halyard was born in Queens, NY and now lives and works in Italy. His genre is rap and his style is improvisational and groovy. For more information on the musicians and their concerts visit the Musicus website.
In addition to art and music, the EUI and NYU Florence will host a series of conferences to address the role of race and diversity in Italian history and culture. On Feb. 17, Antonella Bundu will deliver a lecture at 6 pm in conjuction with the British Institute of Florence. Bundo, born in Florence to a Sierra Leonean father and Italian mother, will speak about Florence’s liberation from Nazi-Fascism forces. On August 11, 1944, the Sinigaglia Brigade entered the city to liberate Florence from fascism. While many are aware of this historical event, it is not as well known that the Brigade was named in honor of Black partisan Alessandro Sinigaglia who was killed in an ambush in February of the same year.
On Saturday, Feb. 20 at 5 pm fashion leaders Stella Jean, Edward Buchanan, and Michelle Francine Ngonmo will engage in a round table discussion about representation and diversity in Italian fashion. Later in the month on Monday, Feb. 22 from 5 to 6:30 pm, UCLA, EUI, and NYU Florence professors Shelleen Green, Lucia Piccioni, and Angelica Pesarini respectively will discuss the representation of race, colonialism, and the racist patriarchy within Italian politics.
There will also be programming available for children. The sixth edition of the Kibaka Florence African Cinema Festival will return this year for its first segment dedicated to kids. There will be films streamed on Più Compagnia in collaboration with Cinema La Compagnia. On Monday, Feb. 15 at 6 pm there will be multiple screenings of children’s movies including Aya Goes to the Beach, A Place for Myself, Yasmina di Claire Cahen, and La Petite Vendeuse de Soleil. Beginning at 8 pm the same day there will also be a presentation on Afro-European cinema with Tiziana Chiapella, Matias Mesquita, and co-founder and director Thompson. In addition to these screenings, there will be multiple story time readings online of children’s books including Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter on Feb. 18 at 5 pm organized by the British Institute of Florence, and I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley on Feb. 28 at 6 pm under the auspices of Feltrinelli’s Razzismo Brutta Storia.
International protests throughout the summer rallying for Black Lives Matter and police reform make clear the importance of recognizing the role of racism in American and Italian cultures and systems. BHMF programming is one way to educate the community on African narratives and anti-racism work. But as co-director and Vice President Dieudji make clear, BHM should not be limited to a specific time or region. (elizabeth berry)