Tag Archives: MoCADA

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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Shifting Boundaries: The Semantic Promiscuity of Blackness

What does it mean to shift boundaries? The panelists at the Eighth Annual American Art History Graduate Student Symposium at Yale University explored strategies of deconstructing the subject matter of “Black Art” through critical interpretation.  Each student was examining “Black Art” from the perspective of American Art discourse. The discussions ranged from comparing the physical architectural structures of African American and African Diasporan museums to redefining the position of black artists place in the context of art history …read more

One of the panelists, Katherine Jentelson presented  the work of William Edmondson in the framework of his agency being defined according to institutional agendas. He was a sculptor, grave stone artist, and the first African American  artist to have a solo exhibition at the MoMA in the 1930s.  The show at MoMA was marketed with the phrase “a Negro Shows art in the Modern Museum” in Time magazine.  One of Jentelson’s main  polemics was the way Edmonson was characterised and manufactured by a “White Supremacist institution,” as she calls it …read more

Much like Jentelson, Joanna Fiduccia also discussed the reframing of a black artist’s work. She presented an intriguing  analysis of William Pope L.’s public performances. Her presentation posited that Pope L.’s work could be framed in the context of land art. The main works which she examined were his self burial piece and William Pope L.’s crawling performances.  She said that Pope L. “opens up space and democratizes it”. The masochistic nature of the crawls can be seen as a means of ‘obliterating the body’ which was compared to the racist practice of lynching in which, once obliterated, the body becomes integrated into the landscape …read more

The keynote speaker was Northwestern University Professor and Harvard University WEB Dubois Institute for African African American Research Fellow, Huey Copeland, discussing his book entitled, Bound To Appear. His book  discusses the work of Renee Green, Lorna Simpson, Glenn Ligon and Fred Wilson. He asserts that these artists are architects of the what Copeland termed the “lingua franca” of black political dissent in in the form of installation art. Each of the artists integrated text, objects, and other elements such as sound to establish connections to ideas of race and agency indirectly referencing the issues of the time, for example, LA riots, Rodney King, police brutality …read more

The Symposium managed to address some relevant questions and simultaneously prove to be problematic. The  shifting boundaries seemed to be moving towards a new era of ubiquitous historical revisionism. Are boundaries shifting to a place where there can be an accessible discourse on black art where the normative group can avoid the paternalistic pitfalls of the past? It is doubtful.

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Contributed by: Jabari Owens-Bailey, Curatorial Fellow

Ontology of Blackness: Beauty and Fashion

One cannot talk about beauty or fashion without discussing the body. Bringing the two together (the black body as explored through beauty and fashion) is what Tisch School of the Arts and Institute of African-American Affairs presented at the two day symposium, Beauty and Fashion: The Black Portrait Symposium.  I saw this symposium as an ontology of blackness, a philosphical exploration, with fashion as the lens to explore black existence and the categories that this existence lies in. Fashion (past, present, future) is a category to understand the systematics of how black identity, and racial identity generally, is thought through and subversed …read more

The symposium was made up of lectures and panels by scholars and artists from diverse fields. Two panel discussions that cohesively exemplified the main concept behind the symposium where Body & Image and Fashioning Beauty. The first to speak was photographer, Xaviera Simmons, Mimi Plange a fashion designer followed. Her whose inspiration for her Winter 2011 collection of women’s clothing drew on the ritual of scarrification that members of her own family have experienced. Lauren Kelley is a film maker who is working on how images and interactions can infiltrate views on race and class to children at a young age …read more

Panel two, Fashioning Beauty, included: Leslie King-Hammond and Lowery Stokes Sims speaking on their collaborative exhibition at Museum of Art and Design, Global Africa Project. Maya Lake, a young fashion designer, followed the talk on The Global Africa Project. She started her own clothing line, Boxing Kitten. Lake combines common African fabrics that were fashioned in the 1960s and 1970s black power movement with conservative styles of the 1950s during the civil rights movement …read more

Anthony Barboza is a seasoned photographer who has worked for Essence magazine whose work was used as the cover photo for this symposium.  Michaela Angela Davis followed and gave a fiery lecture on the fashion world’s ignorance of the black body. The last panelist to speak was Nigerian-born, London-based fashion designer Doro Olowu, whose work was shown in The Global Africa Project … read more

What connects black experience? Why can there be a shared black body from people all over the world – whose communities move from country to country? Systems of oppression have united (and created) ‘the black body’. It is interesting to see how fashion can work to subversively reclaim ones identity, or to reclaim who can’t.

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Contributed by MoCADA Curatorial Fellows

Changing “The Master Plan”: Hybridity and Black art and Design

Parsons School of Design at The New School hosted its first international conference on the state of Black culture in art and design education recently. The lens of day two of the conference revolved around past and current qualms of Black Cultural Production: its value is great yet not enough of it is presented on a grand scale… Two sets of panelists discussed the history, present, and future of black cultural art through their own artistic endeavours.

Renowned interdisciplinary artist and organizer of this conference, Coco Fusco set the dynamic tone for the day with fiery statements …read more  

Noel Mayo, keynote speaker, started by referencing John Gatto’s Weapons of Mass Instruction. As high school dropout rates in black communities increase, incarceration rates correlate. Mayo proposed an idea to counteract these statistics by offering prisoners high school education for a lesser sentence …read more

Susan Cahan, an associated dean from Yale College, offered a historical lens through her thesis that art historic movements of community art spaces in New York City were segregated spaces for larger established museums in the 1970s to push black art into black institutions… larger museums were therefore justified in not incorporating more diversity into their own museum walls …read more 

For the first of its kind, Parsons hosted a successful international conference on black art and design education. The economic tone of the day’s events shed a new light on how to put forth change effectively in a field that can thrive under refreshing new voices. However, change seemed to be emphasized by material production. In a heightened technological age where individuals can achieve significant success, unheard voices still have difficulty being voiced.

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Contributed by: Zemen Kidane, Curatorial Fellow

Emerging Curatorial Models: MoCADA’s Curatorial Fellows Attend The Now Museum Conference

From Thursday, March 10 to Sunday, March 13, Independent Curators International, the New Museum, and the Ph.D. Program in Art History at the CUNY Graduate Center collaborated to present an international conference, The Now Museum: Contemporary Art, Curating Histories, Alternative Models. The conference drew a diverse collection of international curators, students, art historians, scholars and artists, all interested in interrogating the central question: “What do museums of contemporary art stand for today?” MoCADA’s Curatorial Fellows were in attendance to explore related themes and think about the politics and emerging practices of developing innovative curatorial models specifically for a museum dedicated to contemporary art of the African Diaspora.

The third day of the conference was organized under the umbrella topic, Expanding Infrastructures. The first panel discussion, Platforms & Networks, chaired by Kate Fowle, Director of Independent Curators International, New York, facilitated dialogue on …read more 


Lu Jie, Director and Chief Curator of the Long March Project in Beijing gave a talk which stood out as an excellent case study for examining emerging curatorial practices, conceiving new models for community involvement, and combating capitalistic practices of traditional museums. The curatorial mission of the 2004 project was to bring contemporary international and Chinese art to the rural and working classes of China to combat issues of access, focussing on The Great Survey of Paper-Cuttings in Yanchuan County …read more

Later that afternoon, Eungie Joo, Director and Curator of Education and Public Programs at the New Museum chaired the second panel of the day’s program, Bricks & Mortar. The session delved into questions of the politics of physical and imagined museum space. …  Gabi Ngcobo brought a much needed local, grassroots perspective to the discussion. Ngcobo discussed the fact that South Africa is home to a number of large, historic, and well endowed museums and art institutions, including the South African National Gallery (est. 1930) and the Johannesburg Art Gallery (est. 1915). However, because these venues were built to aid apartheid and the colonial project, history is steeped in their very structure. … In contrast to these traditional institutions, Ngcobo introduced the audience to the Center for Historical Reenactments (CHR), established in 2010…read more

Like these spaces, MoCADA sees itself as an example of an emerging model, specifically dedicated to examining the history, arts, and cultures of the African Diaspora through its mission, programming, and multimedia curatorial model. The concept of the museum is not static, and its physicality, indivisible from its ideology, is also constantly in flux. As Ngcobo stated simply, “The ideal museum is currently under construction all over the world.” As MoCADA enters its second decade of operation, you can expect cutting-edge exhibitions and a new curatorial model, international partnerships that emphasize diaspora and movement, and don’t be surprised if you see the museum popping up in unlikely places in 2011.

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Contributed by: Isissa Komada-John,  Curatorial Fellow

MoCADA and The Curatorial Fellows Take Verge Art Brooklyn by Storm

From March 3 to March 6, the Curatorial Fellows successfully curated our first space at the Verge Art Brooklyn Fair. The three day event drew local, national, and international artists and galleries to Dumbo. MoCADA was represented in two ways: with a booth, and by the artist Jeff Sims and his piece “Straddle” in the the Brooklyn Art Now Survey exhibition. The MoCADA booth utilized a multimedia approach and functioned as a venue to debut an episode of the Soul of Brooklyn and  Diaspora Zine, create an artistic intervention, inform the public about the museum, fund-raise, display past exhibitions, and network.

We utilized a multimedia display in the MoCADA booth to show the various programs that the museum is engaged in.  The space was flanked by two projections. One which displayed MoCADA’s new logo and the other projection presented a slide show of images from past exhibitions and an episode of Soul of Brooklyn TV.  The  TV episode is currently featured on Soul of Brooklyn’s website which “is your quintessential online and printed guide to discovering the unique cultural and business renaissance currently taking place within Brooklyn’s African Diaspora”. Several times during the fair, these elements drew a crowd. The Soul of Brooklyn episode features a lengthy segment on MoCADA’s mission. With interviews from the Founding and Executive Director, Laurie Cumbo, the Director of Exhibitions, Kalia Brooks, and the Director of Education, Ruby Amanze. In addition, photographer Barron Claiborne and musician Blitz the Ambassador, along with the trailer of his film, Native Sun (May 2011) were featured.

The Curatorial Fellows created  our first publication, Diaspora Zine. The concept of the zine was to employ a DIY aesthetic to can spread MoCADA’s message to a wider audience. The first edition of the Zine was created for Verge Art Brooklyn and included … read more

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Contributed by: Jabari Owens-Bailey

Questions about Re-Imagining Haiti with Co- Curator Shante Cozier

On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the earthquake that ravaged Haiti in January 2010, this collaborative exhibition organised by MoCADA and CCCADI offered contemporary work by artists who are examining the spirituality, aesthetics, and re-construction of Haiti. Through an open call, visual, performing and literary artists – as well as musicians and filmmakers – were invited to submit work that is centered on a conceptual rethinking of the cosmological and socio-political conditions in Haiti at the present moment. Over twenty artists were selected to participate in Reimagining Haiti featuring works in painting, photography, video, installation, illustration and mixed media.

The exhibition will be on view at Caribbean Cultural Center/African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) from January 13th to May 8th, 2011 and at Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art (MoCADA) from January 20th to May 8th, 2011. Jabari Owens-Bailey sat down with co-curator Shante Cozier to interview her regarding the Exhibition and explore her take on the process of creating such an important and transformative exhibition.

S: Shante Cozier
J: Jabari Owens-Bailey

J: Why is Reimagining Haiti an important exhibition?

S: The exhibition is very important because it marks a year after the earthquake.  The first part of the exhibition opened on the 13th of January at Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute and the second part on the 20th at MoCADA.  The idea of Re-imagining Haiti is important for us because it is one exhibition conceptualized differently in two spaces, and we are dealing with the idea of re-conceptualizing a nation through artwork.

J: You briefly touched on this, but what is the significance of the dual platform of the exhibition in being at two locations?

To read the full conversation click here.

Contributed by: Jabari Owens-Bailey