Museums and Black Panther


I was browsing my local library branch in the periodicals and noticed that there was a cover with Wonder Woman that wasn’t Ms. (I’ve read that one already) ARTNews. I’ve dipped into this from time to time.

Spring 2018. (I’ve checked their website, they’re on the mostly monthly schedule with a combined issue also in Summer. Archive has up only as recent as 2016, though some content from the recent issue is up as well.) So I started reading, and the interview with Aruna D’Souza and Laura Raicovich struck me as interesting to fandom because of the scene of Erik Stevens|N’Jadaka in the museum. I’ve posted earlier about that scene giving people within museums a way to talk to their colleagues.

The interview was held in Dumpling Galaxy in Flushing, Queens, days before Laura Raicovich’s leaving the post of Queens Museum Director. Aruna D’Souza has a book coming out in May, Whitewalling: Art, Race & Protest in 3 Acts.

One of the quotes I did not write down for this, was Aruna D’Souza specifically addressing that ‘diversity’ isn’t enough, that someone like herself can be brought in by institutions and they can thus claim to be diverse, without destablizing a discourse of anti-blackness. She has an article that speaks to a troubling experience where a museum expanded their exhibition space extensively but works by white artists continued to be what was predominately displayed. Black performers however were central in the opening celebration.

The article is focused most specifically in terms of an art museum with focus to recent art. It does not get into the issues of the type of collection we saw Erik before; I do not have at hand texts with regard to accession, acquisition, or colonization. Still, it is evocative.

“controversy started because museums were saying “our public is everyone” when it was clear by their actions that their public was a much smaller swath of people.“ (D’Souza, page 21) I didn’t record the statement, regarding the protest at the Whitney, that the protesters certainly did understand their protest, it was the institution that didn’t understand that the protesters were part of their audience. That what they meant, was they didn’t know how to make intelligible to white patrons why anyone would protest this oil painting. There is in the article a telling picture, of a man wearing a protest statement across the back of his shirt standing in front of the oil painting taken from the picture of Emmett Till in his open casket, with both obscured painting and man showing on the screen of a smart phone. The protestor is black, the painting’s artist and the patron holding the cell are white.

Laura Raicovich pointed out that museum presentations are made in a particular way, and that this register isn’t engaging for everyone. "How do we operationalize our values and decolonize the structure of museums to actually operate along the value system that can be challenging when the structures themselves contain bias?” (page 21) Furthermore, she acknowledges “you start thinking of generics….it always devolves to whiteness”

To welcome is an active process. You have to consider the audience that could be, as they are. D’Souza specified that institutions can have different parts on different pages. The guards and front-of-house consider the public differently than the education department does, and the director and the board of trustees have other concerns.

“all "neutral” means is that the museum is reinforcing the values of the dominate culture” (Raicovich, page 22)

Aruna D’Souza commented, “a register I think is really effective and probably underused is storytelling…. We tell people about art, but that’s not the same as telling people stories about art.” (page 22)

So, if you have access to ARTNews, here’s a reason to take a look at the article. In interests of disclosure, it’s been more than 25 years since I was reading much the same issues as Erik deploys while the curator’s coffee takes effect. They weren’t new then, and they still haven’t been addressed.


“I think the first [female character] I’m going to talk about is actually Shuri, played by Letitia.

That character, to have a little sister, it’s not very often that you see a superhero with a little sister. So I think that is probably not going to occur to people that that, it’s not unheard of but it’s an unusual thing, so I think it brings out a different part of his character. […]

All these characters are strong. Even if it’s not a physical prowess, there is a mental prowess. It’s intelligence and savvy and so all of them present that, but the one that stands out the most actually is Shuri because of the ability, the way a little sister can poke at you and you’re protective of her but she still thinks she’s your mother, like all those different things.”  — Chadwick Boseman