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World Amid opposition, Brooklyn museum stands by its new curator of African arts, who is white

A recent decision by the Brooklyn Museum to hire a white person as an African art consulting curator has prompted opposition on social media and from an anti-gentrification activist group that argues the selection perpetuated “ongoing legacies of oppression.”

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Amid opposition, brooklyn museum stands by its new curator of african arts, who is white play

Amid opposition, brooklyn museum stands by its new curator of african arts, who is white

(NY Times)

In response to a letter from the group that stated its concerns, Anne Pasternak, the director of the Brooklyn Museum, said in a statement on Friday that the museum “unequivocally” stood by its selection of Kristen Windmuller-Luna for the position.

“We were deeply dismayed when the conversation about this appointment turned to personal attacks on this individual,” Pasternak said. She also extolled the expertise of Windmuller-Luna, calling her an “extraordinary candidate with stellar qualifications.”

Windmuller-Luna, 31, has doctoral and master’s degrees from Princeton, and a bachelor’s degree from Yale. She has worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Princeton University Art Museum and the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, New York. Her appointment to the Brooklyn Museum was announced late last month.

Efforts to reach her by phone, email and social media Friday were not immediately successful.

In its letter this week, the activist group Decolonize This Place called the museum’s selection of Windmuller-Luna “tone-deaf” and said that “no matter how one parses it, the appointment is simply not a good look in this day and age.”

The group said the appointment was not a surprise, though, citing “pervasive structures of white supremacy in the art field.” The letter called on the museum to address public concern surrounding the decision.

Twitter lit up with people voicing their frustration with the museum’s decision. Some likened the situation to a scene in the movie “Black Panther” in which a white curator tells a black character about African artifacts.

In its statement Friday, the Brooklyn Museum included a reaction from Okwui Enwezor, the renowned Nigerian-American curator, scholar and arts leader, who called Windmuller-Luna “formerly a brilliant student of mine.”

“The criticism around her appointment can be described as arbitrary at best, and chilling at worst,” he said. “There is no place in the field of African art for such a reductive view of art scholarship according to which qualified and dedicated scholars like Kristen should be disqualified by her being white, and a woman. African art as a discipline deserves better.”

Marla C. Berns, a director at the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles, which highlights art and material culture from Africa, among other regions, said Friday that there were not a lot of curators and academics of African-American or African descent who specialized in African arts.

“Graduate departments seek diversity in making decisions about admissions,” she said, “but the pools of candidates still remain predominantly white.”

The hiring of Windmuller-Luna at the Brooklyn Museum, she said, speaks to its emphasis on strong academic credentials and curatorial experience.

Berns acknowledged a general lack of diversity in the arts field, noting that she had attended conferences with presentations that decry the serious lack of diversity in hiring across museum departments as well as in museum leadership.

Steven Nelson, the director of UCLA’s African Studies Center, agreed, saying on Friday that he was “one of a very small number of African-American specialists in the field.”

Art history as a whole has done “a very poor job of recruiting a diverse pool,” he said, adding that “African art history in the U.S. is primarily white and female.”

Berns also stressed that the Brooklyn Museum job was advertised as a part-time position for a limited period. “It goes without saying that for many, this kind of employment is not practical,” she said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

MAYA SALAM © 2018 The New York Times

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