On via dei Benci, the Methodist church of Florence sits quietly, but behind its wooden doors stirs an artistic revolution.
In the hands of Prince Adetomiwa A. Gbadebo, the church has become an artistic cross-section of Africa and Italy. While an Italian fresco adorns the ceiling, canvases line the modest walls of the sanctuary. Bold strokes of bright colors fill the space with bursts of reds, blues, whites and yellows—an explosion of abstract color. Strips of cloth hang over the paintings with scribbled words, with rocks and pieces of wood surrounding the works like a shrine, creating a 3D experience.
The Nigerian artist came to Florence on June 9 to take part in the artistic residence program A-FREE-CA, a project by the Florence Gospel Choir School. In his month in Italy, he has worked on a series of paintings, both doing performance painting and working on his own.
Though Gbadebo currently lives and works in Minnesota in the United States, he says he is inspired by the many cultures he’s experienced in his life to date.
“What inspires my art is knowledge of my culture and also knowledge of slavery,” Gbadebo said. “Instead of being really angry, [I use] the knowledge as power to infiltrate into those who are ignorant and those who are wanting to learn.”
Though he’s only been in Florence for a few weeks, he’s noted the treatment of Africans in the Italian culture.
“You can be African American and be dressed [normally] and people will automatically think you’re trying to sell them something,” he said.
He’s observed that while there is a strong community of Africans living in Florence, it is a distant community without unity. His desire is to see Africans come together, to recognize their roots and culture and establish and preserve them here.
It is for this very reason that the artistic residence program chose Gbadebo as their summer artist.
“His art speaks, it has something to say,” director Nehemiah H. Brown said. “In Florence, you have to speak. You have to demand a voice. Africa has been speaking for years [and] the best way to make this kind of revolution is art.”
Brown said that for the first time, Europe is experiencing a wave of interest in African art. Though Florence is known as an artistic epicenter, it often only offers European art. For Brown and Gbadebo, the inclusion of African art in Florence provides completion.
“Classical art is beautiful, but it’s not everything.” Brown said. “For the first time, we’re seeing the world.”
Gbadebo returns to the United States on July 9, but hopes that his stay in Florence is not permanently over.
“You can have homes anywhere,” the artist said. “Florence will forever be a part of me.”
Want to learn more about the artist? Gdadebo will give a talk on Tuesday, July 7 at 6.30pm at Florence’s Methodist Church (via de’ Benci 9). His work will be on display at the church from 5-7pm Mondays-Saturdays until July 11.More information: www.adetomiwagbadebo.com
Text and photos by Courtney Runn