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Black figures in Italian renaissance art explored

ART LOVER: Fab 5 Freddy

AS INHERENTLY creative people, art and blackness just go hand in hand. Our creativity knows no bounds, and is evident throughout various art forms - be it music and fashion to visual arts and dance.

However, the association between black people and “high” art is often fragmented. Our visibility throughout art history remains limited despite our influence and impact. However, there are many attempting to rewrite this narrative today.

In March, an exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay entitled Black Models: From Géricault to Matisse displayed masterpieces by some of France’s most prolific artists but renamed them in honour of the black subjects who are in the pictures.

Also addressing the black influence in art is hip hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy who stars in A Fresh Guide to Florence with Fab 5 Freddy, which airs on BBC Two on Saturday (Jul 27) at 9pm.

The show follows the art lover and music icon as he embarks on a quest to uncover the hidden black figures of Renaissance Italian art.

Part of a generation of cultural disruptors himself, Fab was at the heart of the hip hop and street art scene in the 70s and 80s, mixing with musicians like Blondie and Grandmaster Flash, as well as legendary artists like Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring.

Ahead of the show’s premiere, we caught up with the music legend to ask him 5 fab questions:

Q: Where did your love of art history begin?

A: It began as a kid going to museums in New York City.

Q: What did you discover whilst working on this show that you didn't otherwise know?

A: The importance of Giorgio Vassari the painter and architect but most importantly he was the first to put all the artist of the renaissance in a historical framework and context with his great book Lives of The Artist.

Q. In the past it's often been stereotyped that black people are disassociated from what is deemed as "high art" - why do you think that is?

A: That stereotype is simply one of the off shoots of racism and linked to the idea of white supremacy. When I began visiting galleries in New York City, working to become a serious artist making “high art” of my own and meeting people in the art world, all white by the way and we’d have discussions about art history and they'd be utterly shocked that I knew who painters like Ad Reinhardt, Carravagio, Jasper Johns and Diego Rivera were to name a few.

They couldn’t imagine a young black kid from Brooklyn was knowledgeable about these great artists. The reality is that people of color are still largely underrepresented in the art world.

There needs to be more diversity among curators and in those positions of power and responsibility in the art world, otherwise black people will remain invisible in plain sight as they are in the paintings in the documentary. Everyone needs to be represented equally.

Q. Who are some of your favourite black artists right now?

A: I like various artists of various nationalities from the world over. When you say, ‘black artists’ we have to ask ourselves, what does that mean? African artist, black American artist, Caribbean artist, Australian Aboriginal artist, etc.

Q: What would you like viewers to take away from watching A Fresh Guide To Florence with Fab 5 Freddy?

A: That there was diversity in Europe before the concept of race and racism were constructed in the 16th century and before the African slave trade developed becoming the foundation of capitalism. Also, that this show is the tip of an iceberg on the subject with much more facts and history to be discovered and brought to light.

A Fresh Guide to Florence with Fab 5 Freddy is on BBC Two on Saturday, 9pm

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