Rotten Roots, New Seeds, Healthy Plant :
“You can’t cure or “revive” a plant if the roots are dead+ rotten. The only solution is to pull out the whole thing, treat the soil, +plant a healthy new seed.”

-Gabby Duran (@GBDRN)

Rotten Roots:

The British Museum, originating in the 18th century came out of Hans Sloane’s private collection- when he died in 1753, “he set up his will to ask the British Parliament to buy his collection for £20,000 and set up a public museum that anybody, whether they were British or from outside Britain, would be able to enter free of charge. Of course, what they had in mind at the time was mainly dignitaries and foreign scholars from other parts of Europe.Curators didn’t like the idea that lower orders of society were going to come in and get their hands on the collections. They had a great deal of class anxiety and believed learning was a genteel privilege. It took a long time into the 19th and even 20th century to accept that.” - James Delbourgo

Narrative rewriting and acknowledging the past alone cannot fix this- you cannot curate or juxtapose your way out of centuries worth of violence.

New Seed:

This morning, New York-based Activation residency exploring healing, justice and reimagining intimate gathering + a year round co-op fund surpassed their goal of 50,000 dollars. Artist @annapakart sold her work in an online auction for $25K, which her gallery, @rosskramergallery matched and donated to resistance as respite.

I cannot fully describe the immense joy I feel to witness the realisation of another black queer dreamer’s vision realised. Congratulations to @activationresidency for raising enough to not only care for 50 frontline responders over 5 consecutive weekends, but move closer towards buying land to sustain this work for years to come.

Healthy Plant:

Imagine if the British Museum and its counterparts redistributed the wealth they built on slavery and colonialism into Black Cultural Organisations+ Community Conservation Programmes? Imagine if profiting off of Black creativity meant actively pouring that back into the respective creative ecosystems. Imagine not having to prove yourself worthy of resources that are yours?

This is the work of restoration- not restitution, not a loan, not annotated labelling and DEFINITELY not slapping us in the face by selling stolen ancestral art on the secondary market(Reference -Image: 4, but let’s get into the auctionhouses + commercial galleries on another day).


@ BritishMuseum:

You’re just not the it girl you used to be- and denying that instead of more contextual, community specific art engagement -is tired.

A central part of decolonize the art world is demystifying the moving parts of these world(s). The lack of transparency about power in the art world not only reinforces its status quo, but encourages gatekeepers. The shift required is so much more than hiring decisions, institutions as a whole are deeply embedded in recreating the dynamics they were born of, yet try and move like Miley Cyrus ‘transforming’ into Hannah Montana- same thing, and we can tell.

In response to the rising push to address institutional antiblackness, some cultural organizations have began to look at hiring processes to diversify their staff. It is not enough to just hire more Black people without thinking through the role of the institution in the world, and what kind of work environment said employees would be entering into. Quite frankly, museums/galleries/art establishments need to be honest with themselves about what their true values are - not what they need it to look like but the context of their existence.

Here lies the issues of firsts - It is 2020, any FIRST is a failure on the part of an organization shrouded in individual exceptionalism. While the achievements of Black cultural workers should be celebrated, how can we turn the attention to why it is so hard to achieve in the first place?

Take The Guggenheim for example -

Traditionally, The Guggenheim hires curators of color to collect from non-western world regions, organise an exhibition, and diversify the museums permanent holdings on a temporary short-term contract via the The Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative (MAP) . However, without any real commitment to curators of color - this feels like tokenism at best, and at worst, benefiting from the intellectual labor of said curators without actually changing the core operations of the museum.

On the note of Black curators specifically,

In 1996, Nigerian curator Okwui Ewenzor co-curated the museum’s first African art exhibition ‘In/sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present’.Ewenzor’s exact contributions are not made clear on the Guggenheim website however his name is listed alongside Octavio Zaya, Olu Oguibe, and Clare Bell.

23 years later, In 2019, Chaedria LaBouvier became the first Black solo curator + exhibition catalogue writer in the museum’s 80 year history with ‘Basquiat's Defacement: The Untold Story”. Steeped in her over a decade-long research of Basquiat, this exhibition covered not only his work, but also the history of police brutality and targeting of Black men in the United States such as Michael Stewart, a Black man who was in a coma for 13 days and eventually passed away from injuries received in police custody (inspired the painting, The Death of Michael Stewart.) What then followed was institutional bullying and a deliberate attempt to erase LaBeouvier from her work. Later, at a panel organised around the Basquiat exhibition that LaBouvier was not invited- she addressed this with Nancy Spector, Chief Curator of the Guggenheim.
‘This is how institutional racism works, you use the power of the institution to weaponize bodies to exact violence.’

-Chaedria LaBouvier speaking to the Guggenheim’s erasure of a Black woman’s work. Full address posted on our IGTV.

Later that year, Ashley James was the first Black Curator to be hired full time by the institution, but their past violence, unchecked and unacknowledged, still remains.

This is only a summary of the Guggenheim’s treatment of LaBeouvier, for more information, click click click

The Wakandafication of the continent and Black diasporic identities is entirely uninspired. The repeated tropes/symbolic gestures that homogenise & essentialise thousands of African cultures in service of securing the terrain for Black capitalist possibilities & futures is tired.
I was and still am interested in the specific representational mythos of Africa that is mobilised to legitimise empires and Black capitalist aspirations. It is about Africa as a quantifiable product, which is also reliant on collapsing entanglements within the Black diaspora.
I’m interested in how Hollywood, celebrity, capital & different forms of historical reimagination are entangled in this project that is invested in restoring an Africa that never was. Monarchies that are unimplicated in violence and an uninterrupted sense of historical continuity.

This totalising imagery of Africa is mobilised both within the continent and the diaspora.
Focusing on the continent specifically, Wakandafication has been used to supply a fantasy of nation, precoloniality & lack of historical rupture that is then exported globally as a product. “Wakandafication” is not about reducing the entangled and complex histories so many Black people in diaspora have with Africa.
It is specifically about the process through which Africa as a product is reimagined to serve the interests of representation, nation and capital.It’s also not a personal slight against any Black/African artists who’ve contributed to these projects, many of which I’ve enjoyed and are cinematically breathtaking. It’s a larger cultural criticism of an investment in a specific representational economy under racial capitalism.This has been said so many times but I’m going to say it again anyway.

A critique doesn’t remove the ability to enjoy, take pleasure in or celebrate art. No one is saying that art that has engaged these representational economies cannot be consumed and enjoyed.Finally, the term “Wakandafication”, which has received rigourous engagement & derision in equal measure, is not solely based on a 1:30 trailer. I was seeking to name a very old & historically entrenched phenomenon, as many Black feminist scholars do. It’s naming a specific thing.As ever, I appreciate so many of the perspectives that have expanded on my original thinking, engaged and critiqued in good faith and added new dimensions. The opportunity to think with so many Black people collectively is a privilege.

-Jade Bentil, Black Feminist Historian

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