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Brooklyn Museum Responds To Backlash Over Choice Of New Curator Of African Art

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PROSPECT HEIGHTS – The Director of the Brooklyn Museum released a statement on Friday responding to the backlash the institution received following the announcement that Kristen Windmuller-Luna, a caucasian woman, was selected as its new Curator of African Art.

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Brooklyn Museum (Photo: BKLYNER)

The statement from the Museum’s Director, Anne Pasternak, begins by saying that she and the Brooklyn Museum “unequivocally” stand by their decision to appoint  Windmuller-Luna as the Sills Family Consulting Curator of African Arts.

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“The Museum’s collection of African arts is among the most important and extensive in the nation,” the statement reads. “Giving the collection the prominence it deserves, in terms of both its aesthetics and cultural value, has been one of this institution’s most pressing priorities. In order to ensure the highest level of scholarly excellence in how we preserve and present our collections of historical African arts, we knew the job required a specialist with a PhD in this area.”

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.

Pasternak says that she and various department heads at the museum collaborated on an “extensive yearlong search” to find a new curator for the African Arts collection, and unanimously selected Windmuller-Luna based on her “stellar qualifications” as well as her extensive experience working in museums and with many publications,” she explains.

Using her “anticolonial approach to curating,” Windmuller-Luna will develop “multi-vocal installations” for all communities, “including those of African descent, both locally and nationally,” the statement continues. The newly appointed curator has “devoted her professional life to celebrating the individual identities of historical African cultures, and to communicating how those vibrant societies play powerful roles in the world at large.”

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Pasternak adds that she and her colleagues were surprised by the reactions to the appointment, and all were “dismayed” by the “personal attacks” on Windmuller-Luna.

Following the announcement of Windmuller-Luna’s appointment, many took to social media to express their disappointment in the Museum’s decision to hire a white woman, instead of a person of color, to curate the institution’s African Art department.

The Nigerian-American curator, scholar, and arts leader Okwui Enwezor supports the Brooklyn Museum’s decision, stating “I regret deeply the negative press and social media around the appointment of Dr. Kristen Windmuller-Luna, formerly a brilliant student of mine…. The criticism around her appointment can be described as arbitrary at best, and chilling at worst. 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, especially since the field needs engaged young scholars in order to continue to grow and thrive.”

Pasternak adds, “The Brooklyn Museum recognizes that the longstanding and pervasive issues of structural racism profoundly affect the lives of people of color.” She encourages the public to continue to put pressure on institutions to “diversify their leadership” and demands that cultural organizations do more in supporting “young people of diverse backgrounds” who are seeking to pursue advanced degrees in art history.

Click here to read the full statement.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. So by the standards of the outrage, men or women of color should not be considered for any museum curator position dealing with medieval, renaissance or European art from any period since most artists were white. And as some other group suggested museums should repatriate African art to the country of origin. Since many sub Saharan countries struggle with armed conflict,?economic woes and other problems upkeep of a museum would most likely be a low priority. At least in a museum visited by hundreds of thousands annually the likelihood that the African art will be viewed and will inspire others is a real possibility. Going to Ethiopia to visit the museums in Addis Ababa is not a likely destination for most westerners.

  2. Probably the appointment was accompanied by a large check to cover the compensation for the appointee. Anyone figure on that?

  3. As a black woman, I fully support the best candidate getting the job when diversity in hiring has been considered. If there wasn’t a better candidate who happened to be black, rather than attacking this individual woman, who has put in the time and effort to be an expert in her field, let’s work on the systemic issues that led to a pipeline where a black candidate wasn’t the best choice for the role. That is the only way to make real change rather than meaningless fist shaking.

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