DURHAM – The Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire (BHTNH and the University of New Hampshire will hold the 12th Annual Black New England Conference (BNEC), a two-day event on October 19 and 20, 2018. The theme of this year’s conference is "Express Yourself: Identity, Style and Adornment."

The theme this year is African American style, which is expressed through art, music, literature, performance, speech, or bodily adornment, operating 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.

The conference’s panels of academics, researchers, cultural makers and artists will explore ways in which the embodiment of aesthetic expressions serves as a point of reflection for social issues today. In addition, they will delve into 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 conference begins on Friday with an intriguing and enlightening Black History walking tour along the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail, exploring the compelling true story of Ona Marie Judge, who was born in to enslavement and successfully evaded the President and Martha Washington to live as a free woman. Tour guests will visit the historical sites where her courageous story unfolds, learn how Ona was able to elude the Washingtons’ efforts to recapture her and meet some of Portsmouth’s most famous families, the Langdon’s and the Whipples, who would helped the local Black community defy the most powerful man in the country to help her.

At noon on Friday, there will be an artist reception at the UNH Museum of Art, featuring Famou Picou’s exhibit, "DO or DIE: Affect, Ritual & Resistance." The exhibit serves as one artist’s action in opposition to the overwhelming threats of death and violence which plague Black existence. Through performance, painting, drawing and video, Pecou reframes our view of Black mortality, incorporating references from Yoruba/ Ifa ritual to cultural retentions of hip-hop to the philosophy of Négritude, and through this, shapes a story that seeks to affirm life via an understanding of the balance between life and death.

Starting Friday afternoon and continuing into Saturday, the conference will feature panels exploring relevant subjects including:

• The Social Brain and the Creation of Black Identities

• African American Representation & Aesthetics in The Movie, Black Panther

• African American Cool: Commodification, Erasure & Appropriation

• Strange Fruit: Exploring the Style & Art of Black Protest

• Heads up: It’s all about the Hair

• The Souls of Black Folks: Stepping Forward, Redrawing Boundaries

Friday evening of the BNEC traditionally is when an important influencer in the community is honored at an awards dinner. The dinner's keynote speaker, Dr. Lucius Turner Outlaw Jr., is a professor of philosophy and of African American and Diaspora Studies, as well as associate provost for undergraduate education at Vanderbilt University, widely respected for his work in philosophy circles.

Saturday’s lunchtime keynote speaker is Karen Chambers, Vice President of IMAN Cosmetics, speaking on the topic "The Audacity of Afro-Iconic Style".

Continuing on the theme of style, the BNEC will conclude with an Afrofuturism theme fashion show, aptly entitled “Back to the Future”. The fashion show will feature clothing from fashion designers throughout the Northeast exemplifying Black style as we have seen it in the past, exploring the present and into the future

This public event is sponsored by the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire and the University of New Hampshire. Registration for the conference, as well as the tour and the fashion show, can be done online at www.blackheritagetrailnh.org.