Published January 29, 2021 by Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Justin Randolph Thompson, "On Being Present: Recovering Blackness in the Uffizi" Galleries

A black and white photograph of the guest speaker, Justin Randolph Thompson. Photo by Maria Gimeno.

Justin Randolph Thompson. Photo by Maria Gimeno.

In February 2020, Justin Randolph Thompson, director and co-founder of Black History Month Florence, launched On Being Present: Recovering Blackness in the Uffizi Galleries, as a collaboration between Black History Month Florence and the Uffizi Galleries. Foregrounding innovative scholarship dedicated to recovering black history in Florence, the project testifies to the important work to be done by artists and historians, particularly now when historical structural inequity in our society has been vividly exposed.

Involving the efforts of multiple arts experts, On Being Present highlights the histories and historical context of African figures in the Uffizi’s paintings and sculptures. The resulting research is now featured on that museum’s website. As Thompson has explained: “This presentation frames the research project realized in collaboration with the Gallerie degli Uffizi as a point of departure for reflecting upon new forms of scholarship structured to overcome incomplete tellings of history and focused on the recovery of Black history in Italy as a form of resistance.” The success of the project has led to the development of a second volume, to launch on the Uffizi’s site this February, featuring the work of ten art historians from a range of institutions contributing new texts on ten works from the collection. On February 17 at 4:30 pm, Mr. Thompson will speak to the project’s origins, its achievements, and its future objectives.

A new media artist, cultural facilitator and educator, Thompson is deeply invested in the intersection between social activism and the arts and humanities. His creative practice has been widely recognized, and he is the recipient of awards from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, the Franklin Furnace Fund, and the Fundacion Marcelino Botin. He has also been the recipient of two Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grants, a Jerome Fellowship from Franconia Sculpture Park, and an Emerging Artist Fellowship from Socrates Sculpture Park.

On Being Present has a great deal to reveal about the history of Renaissance art, the Uffizi, the history of patronage, and the construction of the art historical cannon. This undertaking, then, has important relevance for all museums and cultural institutions, including the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, that seek to understand better not only what works and images they have collected, but also to contend with absences and previously unacknowledged narratives.

We hope you can join us to hear more from Justin Randolph Thompson about On Being Present on Wednesday, February 17, 2021 at 4:30 pm. Please register here.


Anne Collins Goodyear
Co-Director, Bowdoin College Museum of Art