2018 Black New England Conference

Express Yourself: Identity, Style and Adornment

October 19-20, 2018

and Awards Dinner

“The will to adorn is the second most notable characteristic in Negro expression. Perhaps his idea of ornament does not attempt to meet conventional standards, but it satisfies the soul of its creator.” 

— Zora Neale Hurston

Style—whether expressed through art, music, literature, performance, speech, or bodily adornment—operates as a visible and tangible marker of identity and group affiliation.

African American style has functioned as an effective means of communication in the U.S. and abroad. It has influenced how African Americans create identities for themselves and how they express these identities to others.

Although there is no one way to be “authentically” African American, there are numerous aesthetic choices that have overlapped and intertwine. They often form a framework for understanding linkages between the individual self and the individual’s position within social structures. These can be organized around notions of kinship, economic empowerment, religion, and politics.

In exploring the traditions, artistry, and social histories that have shaped different forms of African American style, this conference will investigate the historical and present impact of artistic expression on the development of African American identities and cultural production.  

Panelists will also unpack ways in which the embodiment of aesthetic expressions serves as a point of reflection for social issues today. In addition, they will explore how creative cultural Black movements have influenced the mainstream and provided platforms for developing societal beliefs and values.  

This conference is for anyone who wants to dialogue around the significance of individual and collective style as more than just a social and climatological necessity. It will be an animated and vibrant celebration of an individual’s drive to define and redefine what it means to be human.


  • The Social Brain and the Creation of Black Identities
  • African American Representation & Aesthetics in The Movie, Black Panther
  • Heads up: It’s all about the Hair
  • African American Cool: Commodification, Erasure & Appropriation
  • Strange Fruit: Exploring the Style & Art of Black Protest
  • The Souls of Black Folks: Stepping Forward, Redrawing Boundaries

The Black New England Conference, now in its 12th year, is an annual 2-day gathering where academics, artists, activists, and community members share insights and research on Black experiences, past and present, in New England and beyond. It is both an academic conference and a celebration of Black life and history.


  UNH Students: for student scholarships contact: