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Museum Hit by Decolonize Protests After Hiring White Woman as Curator of African Art

Activists from the group Decolonize This Place led chants for ‘repatriation’ and ‘reparations’ at New York’s Brooklyn Museum

Decolonize This Place protest, Brooklyn Museum, New York, 2018. Courtesy: Twitter, Fair Use

Decolonize This Place protest, Brooklyn Museum, New York, 2018. Courtesy: Twitter, Fair Use

Decolonize This Place protest, Brooklyn Museum, New York, 2018. Courtesy: Twitter

On Sunday, activists from a coalition of groups including the organization Decolonize This Place entered New York’s Brooklyn Museum, unfurling banners and leading calls for ‘repatriation’ and ‘reparations’. They chanted: ‘Decolonize the Brooklyn Museum’, spelling out a list of demands that included diversifying the museum’s staffers, removing board president David Berliner, and making efforts to challenge gentrification.

‘This museum houses collections obtained through imperial plunder,’ a Decolonize This Place activist said. ‘Diverse programming is not enough. It is cosmetic solidarity. The museum wants our art, our culture, but not our people.’

The action followed an open letter issued by activists earlier this year which responded to the museum’s appointment of Kristen Windmuller-Luna, a white woman, as consulting curator for its African art collection. Decolonize This Place called the hire ‘tone deaf’. The open letter called for the museum to create a ‘decolonization commission’ which would acknowledge ‘the museum’s will to redress ongoing legacies of oppression, especially when it comes to the status of African art and culture’.

In response to the statement, the museum’s director Anne Pasternak pointed out that several of the issues raised were part of a structural challenge facing many other museums in the US. ‘Please know that every day the Brooklyn Museum is working to advance these efforts and its longstanding and widely recognized commitment to equity in all its forms, including race, class, gender, and sexual orientation,’ she said.

Responding to the controversy in an essay for frieze, Chika Okeke-Agulu, professor of African and African Diaspora Art at Princeton University, argued that the outrage over the Brooklyn Museum appointment failed to understand the nature of expertise: ‘To argue, as many have, that a person of colour, by dint of her ancestry, would naturally grasp the intricate histories, and complex aesthetics of historical African art is to misunderstand the work of the curator or scholar.’ Read it in full here.

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