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Jeffrey C. Stewart

I am inspired by Alain Locke, the Black philosopher, arts critic, and Howard University professor to propose a paper for the Black European Studies conference. For Dr. Locke was a great Continentalist, virtually a summer expatriate, who adopted a different social face when he was in Europe than in America. He saw France and Germany, especially, as more than an escape--they were vantage points from which to rethink what it meant to be Black and American. European artists were pivotal contributors to the "renaissance" of the Black spirit he announced in The New Negro: An Interpretation (1925), the bible of the Harlem Renaissance, the Negro Arts movement of the 1920s and 1930s.

Even more important, Locke was an architect of African American Studies as a global cultural investigation, a man who sought to bridge the disciplines as well as the races through transformation of the aesthetic representation of the Negro. For Locke, the Negro American could only come to understand him- or herself through engaging the diversity of Black cultures in Africa, North America, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe.

As I complete my biography, Beauty Instead of Ashes: Alain Locke's Renaissance Life, to be published by Oxford University Press in 2007, I want to use insights I have gained during work on this biography to pursue a new project, the study of a new diaspora, the Black Global Diaspora in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Taking Locke's earlier 20th century focus on the importance of social forces such as migration as a key to producing the New Negro in the 1920s, I want to focus research on the latest Black Diaspora of people of African descent throughout Europe. On my visit to the Venice Biennale in 2003, during my tenure as a Fulbright Professor at the University of Rome, I interviewed Fred Wilson and investigated his installation in the American Pavilion, "Speak of Me As I Am," an exhibit on the African presence in Italy from the Renaissance to the Present.

Wilson documented that an extensive migration of Africans into Italy has taken place that spawned great economic and cultural development, but the histories and identities of such peoples have been invisible. Taking my cue from his representation of contemporary Senegalese in Italy, I want to study the immigration of Africans into Europe broadly speaking, the reactions to such immigrants in the various European nations, and, more subtly, the migration within Europe of Europeans of African descent who are now become part of an entrepreneurial class in the culture and consumer industry. Akin to this, I am interested in documenting the cultural consumption and dissemination of hip hop and other art by Black Europeans in Europe as a transatlantic conversation with the Black urban experience in America.

In an important but unstudied way, people of color are the most competent group migrants internal to the European Union, people whose ability and facility in negotiating multiple language and cultural networks enables them to be cultural and social translators between nations in the Continent. In particular, British and French people of African descent have emerged as formidable members of the global music, dance, and culture industries of the West, while Africans have shaped the communities and cultures of many European nations. What are the parameters, contours, and meaning of the Black presence in contemporary Europe? Does it foretell a new 21st century Renaissance based on forms of African descent now being disseminated by Black Europeans? Have class, national origin, and cultural competencies become more important in the life experiences of people of African descent in Europe than race?

I hope to use this conference to try out some of my ideas and hypotheses that will become the basis of an extensive transnational, transcultural interview schedule in England, France, German, and Italy in the summer of 2006.

I would like to develop some of the answers these questions into an exhibition of work unearthed during my research summer (with assistance from researchers already working in Italy) to compose a major exhibition and catalogue on this subject. The exhibition would not be organized chronologically, but in terms of issues of how the Black European is altering the culture of the nations in which s/he appears, lives, and traverses. In this regard, I am particularly interested in presenting images of the Black Presence in Europe in the service, fashion, film, advertising, and others consumption industries. Moreover, I would like to interrogate the extent to which this new Diaspora is associated or not associated with self-conscious movements such as negritude and Black Consciousness. Indeed, to what extent, I want to find out, has the Black European been allowed to represent the new postmodern mind as well as the postmodern European body?

My project probably fits best within the purview of Workshop #5, as my paper would be preparatory to and exploratory of research I plan to conduct. What I am most interested in getting from the conference is feedback on and ideas for new methodologies and approaches to documenting the present, as a way to understand the future of Black Europeans and their cultures.

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