welcome to whitekanda: brooklyn museum’s new curator for african art is white

March 28, 2018
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If you’ve been to the Brooklyn Museum, you’ll quickly notice their vast collection of art from the African continent. From Egyptian sarcophagus’ to West African masks. This week, the world learnt that the museum had selected a very white art historian, Kristen Windmuller-Luna, to curate their African art collection.

Who gets to tell our stories? Let’s face it: the world of art curation is super white. A study found that 84% of the art curation world is white. Meaning that questions of gate-keeping and access don’t start with who gets the jobs, it starts with who has access to that field in general. Meaning we’re looking at a real problem with access.

Still, the Brooklyn Museum could have found a Black curator to do the job. There are absolutely black people studying in the curatorial arts field: what kinds of jobs are available to them when they graduate? Very few. And, so it seems, even jobs working within the field where their histories intersect with their passions are seemingly reserved for white people. It’s a freakin’ mess. And another demonstration of how white supremacy and whiteness negatively affect and control the art world.

This is about more than curators, it’s about the commodification of black artistry, which has been going on for a very long time. From the white colonizers who destroyed and displaced ancient Egyptian artifacts to the art dealers who fought over the ownership of Malian photographer Seydou Keïta’s work, to the Brooklyn Museum now. Recently, Benin asked France to repatriate up to 6,000 stolen objects, a request that was initially met with firm opposition from French museum leaders.

Around the world, many of the celebrated “experts” on Black art, Black music, etc. are more often than not white. And so are many of the people who profit from Black art.

We need more Black curators and leaders in the art world, but we also need to support the existing leaders who are making a difference and spearheading initiatives such as the 1:54 art fair, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and countless Black and African experts who are not properly recognized.