Opinions & Features March 29, 2018 at 12:44 pm

The curator of the African art exhibit at Brooklyn Museum is white…why?

Farida Dawkins | Contributor

Farida Dawkins March 29, 2018 at 12:44 pm

March 29, 2018 at 12:44 pm | Opinions & Features

Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY...OurBKSocial

On Monday, the Brooklyn Museum appointed Kristen Windmuller-Luna as the new curator for the African art collection according to the museum’s press release. What people – particularly black people are up in arms about is the fact that Windmuller-Luna is white.  The museum also hired Drew Sawyer as the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Curator of Photography. He is also white.

“We are thrilled to welcome Drew and Kristen to our fantastic curatorial team during this period of great momentum as we expand exhibitions, public programs, and educational reach,” said Anne Pasternak, the museum’s director, according to Newsweek.

“Windmuller-Luna will assess and rethink the Brooklyn Museum’s extensive holdings of African art, which is comprised of more than 6,000 objects, and organize an innovative, freshly conceived temporary installation showcasing the breadth and depth of the collection,” Pasternak continued.

This spotlights a very obvious lack of diversity prevalent in the art world. According to a museum demographic survey completed by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2015, African-Americans only comprise 4 percent of educators and curators. Blacks are more than likely to occupy security and janitorial roles.

“The outrage around Brooklyn revolves around public misconceptions—[…] that African art scholars and curators are largely people of color,” Steven Nelson, an African and African American art history professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Newsweek. “Yet the field of African art history in the U.S. is largely white and female. I am one of a small handful of African Americans who specialize in African art history.”

Art historian and Cornell University professor Ananda Cohen-Aponte is not questioning the competence of Windmuller-Luna but she has started a conversation and hopes to highlight people of color presently working in the art profession. “This by no means discredits the achievements & qualifications of these curators,” Cohen-Aponte tweeted, “but saw this story making the rounds on my FB & can’t help thinking how tropes of museum curators as gatekeepers (eg, #BlackPanther) draw on real world examples #POCarthistory

“For folks joining the conversation around @brooklynmuseum’s recent hire,” Cohen-Aponte tweeted, “check out the growing #POCarthistory thread of art historians of color on Twitter, where many are discussing the larger structural forces behind inequities in the field beyond one individual & institution.”

“My aim is to bring greater representation to art history as a whole,” she added. “This is not about ‘counting grains of pepper in the salt shaker.’ As it stands, scholars of color are severely underrepresented as a whole—in the museum, the gallery, the university.”

So, now would be the time for blacks to consider delving into professions that show an underrepresentation of people of color – and make their mark.

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