Brooklyn Museum Welcomes 2 New Curators for Photography and African Art— Felix 🐯The Cat (@GraceXOKelley) March 28, 2018
Uhm. AFRICAN Art
Kristen Windmuller-Luna will rethink the Brooklyn Museum’s extensive African art collection and organize new temporary installations; Drew Sawyer will oversee the photography collection.. pic.twitter.com/R2fKs1fRhl
The Brooklyn Museum announced this week that it had hired two new curators, one for photography and the other for African art.
However, both new museum employees are white.
Kristen Windmuller-Luna, a curator and historian of African arts and architecture, has been appointed the Sills Family Consulting Curator, African Art; and Drew Sawyer has been appointed the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Curator of Photography, according to the BK Reader.
“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, Shelby White and Leon Levy Director.
As curator, Windmuller-Luna will be tasked with organizing a new temporary installation showcasing the vast collection of African art in the museum consisting of more than 6,000 objects. She received her doctorate and master's degrees in Art and Archaeology from Princeton University and her bachelor's degree in the History of Art from Yale University.
“Kristen’s vision for a new permanent collection installation that transforms how viewers relate to the arts of Africa is tremendously exciting for us as we near the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Museum’s pioneering exhibition of African art in 1923,” said Deputy Director and Chief Curator Jennifer Chi.
On paper, Windmuller-Luna is more than qualified for such a position. However, despite her extensive background, it could be argued that she still does not hold the same connection, understanding, and value of these works as someone who actually represents the African culture. As an art curator, she’s in charge of shaping the narrative about a continent full of people who are already so often misrepresented.
A recent example of this occurred just last year when the Hubei Provincial Museum in China came under fire for a controversial exhibit which featured a photo series that juxtaposed African people with wild animals. After facing heavy criticism, the museum announced it would be removing the installation altogether.
These are the sort of gaffes that could be avoided by hiring or consulting people of a given culture before attempting to tell their stories. No matter how knowledgeable one may be or how many times they may have visited a certain part of the world, a barrier will always exist between them and the cultures that don’t belong to them.
Windmuller-Luna’s new position caused quite a stir on the internet as Black Twitter questioned why the museum couldn’t hire someone from the African Diaspora to curate African art.
People from the African Diaspora are frustrated w/ white people being gatekeepers of our narrative. We have yet to be afforded the same access & opportunities so it’s hard to swallow the image of TWO white ppl in roles that curate OUR culture and contributions @brooklynmuseum pic.twitter.com/apDv1Dc9lS— Kimberly Selden (@KimberlySelden) March 28, 2018
white people with yale and princeton degrees sound like the exact people who should be overseeing african art at a brooklyn museum 🙄— Miranda Feneberger (@mirandafen) March 28, 2018
This is what gentrification looks like. 🤨https://t.co/vJGRggqiS4— Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallStNYC) March 28, 2018
Something ain’t white *ahem* I mean right. https://t.co/yYQrqVQddh— Asha Noor (@AshaMNoor) March 28, 2018
We must challenge the idea of what it means to be a "qualified" curator because a lot of THIS is mixed up in colonizing methodology & privileging one type of connection to the work and experience over another. https://t.co/ZmMT5UQRUc— Stephanie Johnson-Cunningham (@stephacunning) March 28, 2018
I'm guessing @brooklynmuseum didn't go see The Black Panther because they just hired two new white curators for Brooklyn Museum’s extensive African art collection. Not to discredit their qualifications or whatever but y'all couldn't find a qualified Black/African curator in NYC? pic.twitter.com/WQSt7nh092— Jamilla Okubo (@VivaIllajams) March 27, 2018
BROOKLYN, IS THIS YOUR MUSEUM? pic.twitter.com/1CRfMlMX2Q— t. sterling of wakanda 🙅🏾♂️ (@indoob) March 27, 2018
This by no means discredits the achievements& qualifications of these curators, 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 https://t.co/0LJmRABroD— Ananda Cohen-Aponte (@drnandico) March 27, 2018
It should be noted, however, that Windmuller-Luna’s full ethnic background is unclear, but the appearance of her as a white, Ivy League, American woman was enough to prompt concerns about her qualifications for this role.
It is certainly not uncommon for white curators and artists to create, explore, and organize works from various cultures that are not their own. However, that might be part of the problem.
Just as the fashion industry, Hollywood, and even corporate America have been challenged to rethink their approaches to diversity and inclusivity, perhaps the art world is due for a similar re-evaluation.
Banner/Thumbnail Photo Credit: Pixabay, 397529