On Friday, February 11th, we had our first experience in the field as Curatorial Fellows at MoCADA. We attended the 99th annual College Art Association (CAA) Conference at the Hilton New York in Midtown, Manhattan (http://conference.collegeart.org/2011/). The atmosphere was lively, with artists and scholars bustling from lecture to lecture, introducing each other to colleagues, and browsing the legendary Book and Trade Fair.
The day began at 12:30pm with thirteen poster displays by scholars in the field, including MoCADA’s former Director of Exhibitions, Kimberli Gant. Kim’s poster presentation was on Staff Diversity in Museums, and drew from current research that she is conducting at the University of Texas at Austin in pursuit of her Ph.D in Contemporary African Diasporan arts. Kim’s display visually represented race and gender demographics in museum workplaces in New York City. Findings showed that while the percentage of women working in museums is considerable, their presence on museum boards of directors is significantly less. Of institutions surveyed, Kim reported an average of 67% of museum staffs were women, while only 43% of women were on boards of directors.
Another set of figures showed that racial minority presence on museum staffs and boards of directors is alarmingly low among the institutions Kim surveyed. A staggering 16% of minorities on average made up museum staffs, and an even smaller percentage (10%) were on museum boards of directors. With this level of under-representation of people of color in the museum field, it is crucial that New York museums like MoCADA, Studio Museum of Harlem, and El Museo del Barrio’s missions are to make minority experiences and identities visible. With staff and artists from these museums illuminating minority experiences, these institutions provide much needed change in the relationships between museums and our communities.
Kim’s presentation was extremely well received and important connections were made, opening up opportunities to expand this research to the national level and begin mapping demographics of young scholars in the museum field. She discussed the lack of diversity of university educators with a Professor from the University of Maryland who expressed frustration at being the only professor of color in the art department. Students from various universities also reflected with Kim on their disappointment with a lack of diversity in their classroom environments. By discussing their personal experiences with Kim, universities were pointedly shown to be the next space for Kim to continue this research.
At 2:30pm, we attended a collection of presentations, followed by a panel discussion entitled, “The Ethnographic Ruse: Early Erotic Photographs of Non-Western Women.” Five scholars presented papers on their research, and common themes of colonialism, exotification of the female body, and photographs as documentation versus fantasy, emerged throughout the afternoon.
One of the papers, Shadow Catchers: Legacies of Early Photographic Images of Samoans, written and presented by Dr. Caroline Vercoe of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, bridged historic representations of Samoan women as hypersexualized, with a discussion on the practices of contemporary Samoan women photographers, designers, and performance artists. Dr. Vercoe referenced multimedia and performance artist, Shigeyuki Kihara (http://shigeyukikihara.wordpress.com/), as an example of one of these artists who have created images that challenge the historical and present day depictions of Samoan women as powerless and as mere objects to be represented for foreign male fantasy, rather than agents in the creation of their own images. Kihara often uses photography to explore the intersection of colonialism, gender roles, and Pacific identity.You should talk about the reclamation of the “Dusky Maiden” persona in the Pacific.
The session concluded with a panel discussion moderated by legendary performance artist, Coco Fusco, from Parsons The New School for Design (http://www.thing.net/~cocofusco/). During the question and answer portion of the discussion, the point was made that while in the Pacific, there is a history of the nude female body being constructed as sexually inviting and welcoming, the Black female nude has historically been associated with the slave auction block. While much of the discussion was focused on representations of women outside of the African Diaspora, the conversation shed light on the particularities of representations of the Black female body, as well as the commonalities that exist among depictions of non European women in general.
A question to ponder:
To what extent are there parallels between contemporary works by women of African Descent and other women of color who construct images of the nude, racialized body?
Please comment or add questions on this discussion!
For a list of Dr. Vercoe’s publications, click here
Listen to Kimberli’s experience at the CAA: