Rutgers University-Newark brings the global Black Portraiture[s] conference to Newark, NJ for the first time on February 17-19th 2022

In this moment of profound uncertainty, reconnection, and newfound creativity, the organizers of the Black Portraiture[s] conferences invite the submission of abstracts summarizing a paper, panel, or performance related to the role of “play” in past and contemporary African Diasporic art, performance, liberation struggles, and cultural work.

Play is a capacious term. It connotes leisure, desire, and jouit, or indicates musical or athletic virtuosity. Play can be liberatory as in racial masquerades or gender mimicry. But, it can also be oppressive as well. Pantomimes and minstrelsy have a racist history; while physical sites of play and public recreation have also been places of segregation and discrimination.

More subversive types of play engage the absurd, the excessive, or the spectacular; and the term “play” itself can signify sexual power relations. At the same time, play, as in the Trinidadian concept of “to play mas” during Carnival, or other similar traditions like the Mardi Gras “Indians” in New Orleans or Junkanoo in the Bahamas, can be the basis of political resistance and radical performance.

We are interested in how African diasporic visual and performing artists and cultural workers have interpreted these ephemeral concepts, ones that can start in the fluid spaces of black childhood, reclaim community and Black utopic spaces, or re-imagine the interconnections between play and race, gender, history, or freedom.

Initially, a colloquium at Harvard University on African American art convened by Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African American Research at Harvard University, Dr. Deborah Willis, University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and Manthia Diawara, Professor of Comparative Literature and Cinema at New York University. Then it went on to Paris, becoming an international conference series, co-hosted by Awam Amkpa, Professor at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and Cheryl Finley, Inaugural Director of the Atlanta University Center Collective for the Study of Art History and Curatorial Studies, Black Portraiture[s] now attracts hundreds of scholars, artists, and activists from around the world each convening.

As part of the conference, we will also host three exhibitions that take up these themes. The Paul Robeson Gallery at Express Newark will host an exhibition that meditates on themes of black girlhood through the eyes of Black women and girl photographers. Curated by Jasmine Wahi and Rebecca Jampol, the Project for Empty Space gallery will also host the debut solo exhibition of photographer and activist, Scheherazade Tillet, whose practice uses site-specific work to explore the themes of gender, racial identity, and play as a form of freedom for Black girls. The Newark Museum of Art will host Saya Woolfalk’s exhibition Tumbling into the Landscape and her related interactive installation/intervention at Shine Portrait Studio at Express Newark.

Some topics to be considered: Subversive types of play; Work and play; Safe place of dreams, imagination; Travel, tourism; Leisure; Racial masquerades & gender- mimicry; Fashion, beauty; Musical and theatrical virtuosos; Athleticism, sports, games, professional, amateur, entertainment; Activism; Public spaces, “Blocks”; Black girlhood; Facilitating and therapeutic: “role play”; Observing, recording; Sexual- Erotic, Power Relations; Love, courting; Political Resistance; Artistic process.

Submit abstracts of up to 500 words with bios up to 250 words by October 30, 2021. Please note that all panels will be in person. We will not accept proposals for virtual presentations.



Black Portraiture[s] VII, at Rutgers University-Newark, is organized by Salamishah Tillet, the Henry Rutgers Professor of African American and African Studies and Creative Writing and the Director of ExternalExpress Newark and New Arts Justice, and Nick Kline, an Associate Professor of Photography, in the Department of Arts, Culture, and Media, the Creative Director of Express Newark and Founder and Director of SHINE Portrait Studio.

Participating institutions include Express Newark, The Clement A. Price Institute, New Arts Justice, SHINE Portrait Studio, Project for Empty Space, The Newark Museum of Art, and the Institute for Jazz Studies at Rutgers, Newark. For more information, please visit External If you have questions, please email


About Express Newark 
Express Newark is a center for socially engaged art and design in which faculty, staff, students, artists, and community members create art together, learn collaboratively, and build coalitions to advocate for change.

Express Newark honors the city’s historical legacy as an epicenter of art and activism by being a third space that bridges the campus and community and supports contemporary artists who are dedicated to social justice in Newark and beyond.

About Rutgers University–Newark  
Rutgers University–Newark (RU-N) is a diverse, urban, public research university that is an anchor institution in New Jersey’s cultural capital. More than 13,000 students are currently enrolled at its 38-acre campus in a wide range of undergraduate and graduate degree programs offered through the College of Arts and Sciences, University College, the Graduate School, Rutgers Business School-Newark and New Brunswick, the Rutgers Law School – Newark, the School of Criminal Justice, and the School of Public Affairs and Administration. RU-N is exceptionally well-positioned to fulfill higher education’s promise as an engine of discovery, innovation, and social mobility. It has a remarkable legacy of producing high-impact scholarship that is connected to the great questions and challenges of the world. It has the right mix of disciplines and interdisciplinary centers and institutes to take on those questions and challenges. It is in and of a city and region where its work on local challenges undertaken with partners from many sectors resonates powerfully throughout our urbanizing world. Most importantly, RU-N brings an incredible diversity of people to this work—students, faculty, staff, and community partners—making it more innovative, more creative, more engaging, and more relevant for our time and the times ahead.