The Ethics Alarms verdict is that such a defense is impossible. Asks the Huffington Post in its “Black Voices” section, “People Want To Know Why Brooklyn Museum’s New African Art Curator Is White.” Why are they asking this? The answer is obvious and backed by the curriculum vitae of the two (not one) scholars hired, Drew Sawyer and Kristen Windmuller-Luna. They are eminently qualified for their new jobs, and the color of job applicants is not, and never should be considered “a credential.”
Windmuller-Luna will rethink the Brooklyn Museum’s extensive collection of African art, which is comprised of more than 6,000 objects, and organize a freshly conceived temporary installation showcasing the depth of the collection. Her focus will be to create a dialogue between the African art collection and other works within the museum’s holdings while also helping to develop educational programming.
As a curator and historian of African arts and architecture, with a specialization in the early modern period and Christian Ethiopia, her work counters myths about African civilizations and artistic production by focusing on cultural specificity, artistic diversity and global historical context. Windmuller-Luna received her Ph.D. and M.A. in Art and Archaeology from Princeton University and her B.A. in the History of Art from Yale University.
Drew Sawyer will reimagine the role of photography collection within the museum and explore ways to integrate it with other collection galleries and exhibitions.
Sawyer is currently Head of Exhibitions and the William J. and Sarah Ross Soter Associate Curator of Photography at the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio. He is also a co-organizer of the upcoming historical survey Art after Stonewall, 1969 to 1989 which will tour during the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in 2019. Sawyer holds a Ph.D. in Art History and Archaeology from Columbia University, specializing in North American art and visual culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
“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. “Drew’s deep expertise in social and experimental documentary practices during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries will significantly augment our strong collection and will contribute to our history of championing contemporary artists who continue in this vein.”
Unless critics can identify clearly better qualified African-American scholars who were in the running for the position–they haven’t—the attacks on the museum’s choices come down to color, race, and and prejudice, and nothing else. They also define either a double standard, or a self-destructive one. The kind of limited race qualifications being argued for hardly open up more opportunities for black scholars, unless the preferred concept is “It’s racist to consider race when hiring curators for European and Asian art collections, and racist not to make race determinative when hiring curators for African art collections.
Of course, I conclude that “heads we win, tails you lose” this is the preferred construct of the race-baiters, but I will await the responses to the Ethics Alarms Challenge.
Addendum: This comment on the controversy from Amy Alkon:
…and check out one of the tweets about the hire of Windmuller-Luna: “People from the African Diaspora are frustrated w/white people being gatekeepers of our narrative,” tweeted Kimberly Seldon.
Does somebody eat, sleep, and breathe African art? Great.
Their skin color should be unimportant.