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Blackamoor vs. Blackface

Black-a-moor or blackamoor jewelry is having a resurgence. And I’d like to think that I am among those leading the charge. I wrote about my first blackamoor piece I received from my mother over 4 years ago on this blog and since then I’ve begun to slowly build a collection, eyeing choice pieces and voraciously researching the topic. In my last post, I explained the history of blackamoor jewelry and art, primarily as it relates to the Italian city of Venice, however, 2015 was a very different time socially than now, the end of 2019, and I’ve gotten more comments and questions than ever about my growing blackamoor collection. 

my first moretti Veneziano ring from my mother by Giovanni Corletto

In 2017 we had a woman of color join the Royal Family and an aunt wore a blackamoor pin to a Christmas with her which allegedly caused offense to both Meghan and Prince Harry. Over the past few years we’ve had too many brands, from high street, H&M, to luxury houses like Prada and Gucci called out for cultural appropriation and their use of blackface and imagery that bordered too closely on the minstrelsy. In 2019 we had Canada’s Prime Minister, a poster child for the modern white man ally, come under fire for dressing in black and brown face at costume parties. So in these times, wearing my blackamoor jewelry can seem like a bold choice.

wearing Carlo Zini earrings and necklace on the streets of Milan

How is blackamoor jewelry different from blackface memorabilia?

blackamoor from La Pietra Florentine Villa

A lot of the blackamoor pieces that you might see in Italy (though the US is the number 1 importer) are figurines and statues are not depicting noblemen. Like lawn jockeys you cam find in the old American south, these figures are working. Holding up a tray, a light etc. Permanent fixtures, stuck in history, contorted in servitude. But that’s not who I see in my blackamoor jewelry or moretto Veniziano. Oddly enough, the jewelry was different.

There’s an exotification yes, but I see kings and queens who held their own in Southern Spain, Sicily, conquerors, traders and merchants. The artistic response to the European encounters with the Moors of the Middle Ages. It’s a reflection of a time when in a wealthy international city like Venice, black people, and former slaves did have a place and were integrated into society (arguably better than in Italy today). Today the right party (5-star) argues for a homogenous Italy like “it’s always been.” These blackamoors remind you that black people in Italy didn’t stop after the Roman empire and start up now. Moors, and depiction of moors is so intrenched in many facets of Italian cultures and in different regions, from Venice to Sardinia to Sicily. Othello anyone?

One of my new favorite jewelry brands, Carlo Zini (coming soon in a brands we love piece!) are my current go-tos for blackamoor pieces. They’re bold and modern and every time I go to the showroom it’s hard not to walk away with a different one. Funny story: when going there to pick out some pieces for my birthday, Michele insisted I not get blackamoor jewelry so as not to compete with his recent gift to me. Overwhelmed by choice I picked two pieces, under water themed, that I liked during the summer, earrings and necklace, but I didn’t love, they just weren’t me. Well, my angels broke the earrings giving me a legitimate excuse to exchange them and I chose these beauties that I had in my mind since my first visit to Carlo Zini. I wanted to flip a preppy staple on its head. Like if I was wearing pearls, I wanted a black king attached to it. I just received these a few days ago and haven’t shot them yet but based on the reaction in my insta-stories, I think they are going to be a crowd favorite.

When I styled this All the Pretty Birds pre-Fall story, the mood board Tamu McPherson and I came up with had a variety of strong portraits of historical people of color from Princess Charlotte to Marie Guillermine, Portrait of a Black Woman at the Louvre and ever present in the back of my mind are regal images of Toussaint Louverture. This was an amalgamation of all of those images and more iconography and for a moment, the model Glendys embodied that liberator. With these powerful people of color, it was very important for me to include blackamoor jewelry. Jewelry portraying black kings and queens as a not-so-subtle nod to the subject and inspiration. I used a pair of Carlo Zini earrings Michele got me for my birthday and made them work!

My friend Carolyn’s aunt has a brownstone full of memorabilia and artifacts of racist depictions of black people.

You have to confront a negativity and own it. That’s the only way I know how to do it.

Harriet Michel for the New York Times

I much rather this intelligent, beautiful, black woman that’s a force having these things than a true believer, or even a white historian. It’s different when we own these images and can educate around them. 

Princess Michael of Kent had a history of racist incidents, is the daughter of an SS officer, standard-type colonizer fare. So her, wearing that? It’s easy to take that as racist, a bold conversation piece for her to start regaling (in her mind) Duchess Meghan with tales from her times in Africa and how much she loves the continent and people. Any black person that occupies primarily white spaces knows exactly the conversation I’m talking about. It’s the difference from when the Pucci family opens their home and loans their blackamoor figurines for an NYU exhibition vs NYU rejecting Dolce and Gabbana’s offer to participate. Intent. So let’s flip that, what if Duchess Meghan was wearing that brooch (it looks like a NARDI piece to me) to the Queen’s Christmas luncheon? What would that say?  I love every piece of jewelry I own. Whether I got it at a flea market, it was my grandmother’s, my first gift from Michele, this piece of jewelry was welcomed into my home. There is a much power in the wearer as there is in the piece. When the team at Carlo Zini places the teste di mori on me and “ooo” and “ahh” I feel regal as if I’m telling the pieces, “welcome home, my loves.” Many of those comments on instagram I get from people wanting to get their own are black women. Anita Pointer of the Pointer Sisters is also a collector of blackamoor jewelry and memorabilia. To me, blackamoors are us adorning and a celebration of our regal history, and maybe we need that now more than ever. 

PHOTOS OF ME BY MICHELE SCAGLIONE

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