Curatorial Intensive in the City of Brotherly Love

Philadelphia Skyline via Wikimedia Commons

On Friday, May 6 MoCADA’s Curatorial Fellows embarked on a Curatorial Intensive to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. So here is their latest post filling you in on the experiences of that day…

MoCADA’s Director of Exhibitions, Kalia Brooks and Director of Education, Ruby Amanze, both of whom hail from the city of brotherly love, planned a 12 hour day of studio visits, meetings with arts professionals, and trips to local arts and African Diaspora institutions. Throughout the day central themes and framing questions emerged. First, what is the artistic and political value of collecting? To what extent can curating serve as a political intervention into a space? What role does technology play in emerging curatorial practices? And finally, what are the political implications of distinguishing between art spaces and ethnically specific cultural institutions?

The day began with a studio visit with photographer and musician Bianka Brunson and visual artist Lorna Williams. Both women’s works express interest in collecting and creating curated space, whether it be made up of physical objects, sounds, or experiences. Brunson, whose music and photography are in constant interplay, creates abstract works that bridge natural elements with human-made sounds/structures through both mediums. Brunson makes her way throughout the Philadelphia music scene, playing DJ sets and riffing off of the energy of the crowds …Read more

Williams presented a large scale mixed-media sculptural piece entitled birth-right, currently on view at the Maryland Institute College of Art where she is completing her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Williams explained that the piece is extremely personal …Read more

Brunson and Williams’ artistic interest in purposefully constructed space is mirrored in the character of their shared quarters. The two women live and work in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood in a sunny loft filled with plants, books and collected objects. A large altar stands erect in the corner of the main room and a number of guitars hang from the walls as usable art …Read more

Immediately following the studio visit with Brunson and Williams, the Curatorial Fellows and staff traveled to the Temple University campus to visit the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection. The Blockson Collection is housed in a large room filled with glass cases of rare books, sculptures, paintings and memorabilia that tell a history of Philadelphia, Afro-America and a wider African past …Read more

Spending time with the materials and speaking with the staff raised questions about the importance of collecting as a means for documenting histories of marginalized groups. Blockson’s collection holds monumental weight as one of the primary depositories for historical items related to Black experience in the United States and abroad. Similar to Lorna Williams’ birth-right, and the Kensington loft, the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection uses objects to tell a specific story that is at once personal, ancestral and political. However, Williams’ and Brunson’s art and loft are read as subjective …Read more

This issue of curatorial practice as a tool for disrupting a dominant narrative was further complicated during the group’s visit to an unconventional art space, Eastern State Penitentiary. According to the institution’s promotional materials, Eastern State is described as, “The world’s first true penitentiary, a prison designed to inspire patience — or true regret — in the hearts of criminals.” Eastern State was active for 142 years, but today the prison is a tourist attraction. Eastern State has a site-specific installation art program, where the penitentiary invites artists to install works within the prison walls. One of the featured installations is a video work entitled Beware the Lily Law by artist Michelle Handelman. Handleman’s installation was undoubtedly a radical intervention into the space. She developed and projected a series of three monologues based on the experiences of gay and transgendered prison inmates on the wall of one of the prison’s cells …Read more

Later that day, the group was greeted by Richard Watson, Curator of Exhibitions at the African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP). AAMP is in the heart of Philadelphia’s downtown district, and serves mainly as a historical and cultural museum. Watson led a guided tour of the museum’s current exhibitions and discussed AAMP’s new direction. He explained that the use of technology is at the core of AAMP’s current exhibitions model …Read more

The Curatorial Intensive illuminated new perspectives on collecting, the use of technology and the political potential of curatorial interventions in dominant spaces. These common threads tied the day’s itinerary together, connecting institutions and individuals that at first glance may seem entirely unrelated.

Contributed by:
Isissa Komada-John, Curatorial Fellow

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