Controversy sparks over Brooklyn Museum’s new curator

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Brooklyn Museum has recently been under ridicule for hiring a white female curator for the African art wing. Dr. Kristen Windmuller-Luna, a 31-year-old with a Doctorate and Masters of Arts in African art history from Princeton, a Bachelors in art history from Yale and was previously a lecturer at Columbia University’s department of art history and archaeology. She held other positions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Princeton University Art Museum and the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase. Windmuller-Luna is more than qualified for this position but still many are outraged. Some took to Twitter, comparing this decision to the first scene in Black Panther.

Decolonized, an activist group dedicated to black liberation, wrote an open letter in response, calling the decision “tone-deaf” and “not a good look in this day and age.” In the letter, they urge the museum to apologize for their error. 

“We are thus calling for the Brooklyn Museum to participate in the creation of a Decolonization Commission of the kind that has recently been demanded of institutions, like the city’s own American Museum of Natural History, that are being publicly asked to account for their own role in the histories of colonialism and white supremacy.”

The issue of non-representation within the African art community has not been a new issue, though. Dr. Marla C. Berns, a director at the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles, which highlights art and material culture from Africa, stated that the curator pool for African art, in general, lacks diversity. The director of U.C.L.A.’s African Studies center agreed with the statement, saying that he was one of the few African-American specialists in his field.

The Museum defended their decision in a press release posted March 29, a couple days after the issue arose. 

In their press release they called Windmuller-Luna an “extraordinary candidate with stellar qualifications,” Windmuller-Luna’s former mentor, renowned Nigerian-American curator Okwui Enwezor, spoke in her defense.

“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,” said Enwezor.

It seems that the main problem at hand is that Windmuller-Luna is not black, and therefore cannot be an expert in African art. Out of the plethora of people who complained, not one complained about her qualifications but instead about her race. There is a lack of color within the art curator community, but, personally, I would think it would be somewhat racist not to hire her based on her race. She meets and exceeds qualifications for the position, so the only complaint is that she is white. The outraged community should be focused on bringing more people into curatorial work to spark a wide diversity of options for museums to choose from. Also, I believe that the United States should be at a point in time now that race should not sway opportunity.

This issue has grounds, though. For example, if a male curator was to be hired to be in charge of women’s art, there would be outrage from the feminist community. If the man held a doctorate in women’s art and met all qualifications, apart from not being a woman, it would be difficult for me to be mad about the museum’s choice. I do recognize that it is similar to someone speaking on behalf of someone else, which can always raise problems because they don’t know the complete story, but I do not believe we have the right to discriminate and limit someone’s opportunities based on their race, gender or ethnicity.

Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Museum.

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