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III Chapters for Till is an exhibition dedicated to a critical, place based inquiry into the hanging of Louis Till in July 2 1945 in Pisa, ten years before the lynching of his son Emmett in Drew, Mississippi. The execution of Till alongside Fred A. McMurray was the subject of the book Writing to Save a Life- The Louis Till File by John Edgar Wideman in which he reflects upon the validity of the case that convicted him against the backdrop of the exported stereotype of predatory Blackness advanced by the Fascist regime, the Nazis and the United States of America. Emmett Till’s body was recognized, by his mother Mamie Till, after seeing the ring he wore on his finger. This silver ring, fabricated in North Africa for Louis Till, bears his initials and a date that likely coincides with his arrival there, and was amongst the only possessions shipped back to the US following his hanging. This ring is an axis around which the exhibition rotates.

This project brings together three chapters from the ongoing experimental film project, Minted in Enemy Bronze, which was supported by a 2021 Italian Council research grant. The series of works are expanded by the sculptures that are at the heart of their material and performative research. Each chapter is carried out in specific geo-social sites as a form of conjuring, designed to shift the focus and resonance of the histories embedded in the soil. Livorno, Sicily and Marrakech are sites that retrace a trajectory that aligns with the arrival of many African American soldiers in Italy, these places rare employed in a form of recovery, through these film studies, of under-acknowledged Black histories that extend beyond the figure of Till.
All Stories True, was realized in Livorno’s American Market on May 25th, 2021 (the same date etched into Louis Till’s ring) in dialogue with artist and Chicago native Thelonious Stokes. Livorno is engaged as a site hat conjures the liberation of Italy through the intervention of American soldiers during the Second World War, but also as a site for the formation of an Italian imaginary in relation to Black Americans. This film’s sound carries the entirety of the exhibition space and was created during a live performance at Socrates Sculpture Park, featuring an improvisation by guitarist Brandon Ross and saxophonist Jason Thompson, reflecting on the absence of natural breath and the dissonance of sonic enunciation. The work pulls roughly from the intonation, cadence and aggression of readings of Pisan Cantos by poet Ezra Pound, written from a cell on a US Military base in Pisa where Pound bore witness to and documented the hanging of Till. The film features a reworked military coat that draws its form from the Madonna Protettrice. Mounted on a servomuto (mute servant, the Italian word for valet) the sculpture is outfitted with a broken speaker. The Age We Are Living In is a follow up chapter realized in dialogue with the Monument to the Four Moors engaging a typewriter and the delineation of a steel fence. This work draws additionally from an interview with William Demby as a meditation on migration and movement. This chapter was first presented accompanied by a live performance by Tatjana Lightbourn and Hanan Saafir which referenced the John Edgar Wideman book on the Louis Till files.
The third chapter, No Victories, was realized in Marrackech, Morrocco during a 2021 residency at MACAAL, Musée d'Art Contemporain Africain Al Maaden. The piece involves the commissioning of local lamp making workshops for the realization of two rings that borrow the form of the one that Till commissioned in 1943, in a nearby geography. This labor is framed against the backdrop of a sculptural wall of wooden ladders and an artisan’s workshop dedicated to the fabrication of ladders. These elements are set in conversation with a series of images of the rising and setting sun on the Mediterranean Sea on the south eastern coast of Sicily.
The project is rooted in expansive reflections on migration and displacement, art as social engagement, historical analysis grounded in subjectivity, the poetics of theatricality and provisionary transnational alliances. The exhibition is a part of a larger engagement in the development of Black cultural studies in Italy where such reflections are slow to emerge despite the presence of Afro-descendent peoples in the territory of Italy extending back as far as recorded history. My hope is that this work may offer a meditation on language construction and realignment and an expanded contemplation of what we are speaking to when we make reference to knowledge production.

Photos by Leonardo Morfini