What’s Good G?

When in Rome

Germane Barnes

In his latest column, Germane Barnes shines a light on the people and projects inspiring him most from his new Italian outpost

Welcome back, friends, and greetings from Rome! Yes, Rome, my new, amazing home for the next five months. As I mentioned in my introductory column, I won the Rome Prize in Architecture for 2021-22. As a result, I’ve just left Miami and am now living at the American Academy in Rome (AAR) doing a bit of research—and I’m excited to be bringing What’s Good G? readers on this adventure with me.

Over the next several months, I’ll be working on a project called Restructuring Blackness in Rome, which aims to fill in some of the massive, missing holes in the history of Roman and Italian architecture, through the lens of nonwhite constructors from the African diaspora. (Fun fact, I am only the third Black person to be awarded the Rome Prize in Architecture, ever. I’m also the first Black male and the youngest of the three! Not bad, right?) At the same time, I will continue, with this column, to give monthly shout outs to the incredible people and projects I find myself in awe of. For this installment, I’ll be spotlighting some of the inspiring people I’ve encountered so far here in Rome.

2021-22 American Academy in Rome Fellows; Courtesy of The American Academy in Rome

The AAR sits atop a hill, southwest of Rome’s central district, where a traveler would find the Colosseum and Pantheon and directly south of Vatican City. I arrived at the Academy on Valentine’s Day, along with 10 other fellows from around the globe, and our first week was filled with orientation, learning our way around the campus and neighborhood, and getting to know our colleagues.

There are so many brilliant people here at the Academy from many different disciplines—all of whom you should get to know. One particularly great standout is Cole Ndelu, a female photographer from Durbin, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Cole was awarded the Institute of International Education: Artist Protection Fund Fellowship in Visual Arts. Her work reacts to the entanglements of art, fashion, spirituality, sexuality, and identity. She is especially interested in self-care, made evident by the three hour skin routine she practices daily. Cole and I bonded over our mutual love for South Africa once I revealed to her my short internship in Cape Town as a postgraduate. Her photographs have such amazing depth and texture. A large criticism within the Black artist community is the inability of major magazines to photograph Black bodies well and present them in spectacular fashion. A relatively young photographer, Cole does not suffer from this malady. The vibrancy and color of her photography reminds me of ’90s hip-hop music videos. I have already asked if she can take a few photos of me! (Don’t worry; I promise to share.)

Kyle Kheswa photographed in Capetown, 2021. Photo courtesy of Cole Ndelu

In addition to the traditional Academy fellows, the AAR’s culinary staff also offers a prestigious internship for aspiring chefs. Two such exemplary chefs are Georgia Lahiff of Australia and Josefina Gimenez Bellucci of Buenos Aires, Argentina, who have already warmed their way into everyone’s hearts—and stomachs.

The Academy has a very interesting ideology around food, thanks in large part to American chef Alice Waters—whose acclaimed food innovation pioneered the farm to table movement—and also revamped the entire process of cooking at the American Academy in Rome. All of the food cooked by the staff is locally sourced and always in season. Georgia and Josefina embrace this same approach, and their passion is contagious. Georgia believes that this method of preparation guarantees a more sustainable model and delicious dishes, as items are really allowed to shine as nature intended. Josefina has ample experience as a sommelier as well as a local forager, and is also a strong proponent of the Slow Food movement; she’s committed to promoting ecological knowledge around food to reduce our collective carbon footprint.  Her expertise of large scale cooking with limited ingredients adds a wonderful twist to classic dishes. Needless to say, we eat VERY well at the Academy.

Left: Foraging dinner co-organized by Josefina Gimenez, standing second from the right. Photo courtesy of Gimenez. Right: Dinner pastries; Courtesy of AAR

Last but certainly not least, this past weekend I was able to attend a performance by current fellow Pamela Z at the Auditorium Parco della Musica. Pamela Z is an experimental American composer, performer, and media artist—and a pioneer of live digital looping techniques. Her performance was a one hour treatise on the need for a more carbon neutral world, during which Pamela Z utilized a myriad of methods ranging from vocals to live mixing to address issues of climate change.

Pamela Z performing at the University of Colorado's ATLAS Institute, Boulder, CO. Photo by Tom Steenland,  via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

The diversity of talent around me is humbling, and this has been an incredible first two weeks at the Academy. I can’t wait to meet more people, and look forward to learning more and sharing it all with you too!

Ciao for now,