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The Brooklyn Museum Defends Itself for Appointing a White Curator for African Art

In March 2018, the Brooklyn Museum proudly announced the appointment of two curators. Kristen Windmuller-Luna as the Sills Family consulting curator, African Art and Drew Sawyer as the Philip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian, curator of Photography. However, the appointment was termed ‘unwise’ by a majority of the public.

The decision of appointing Kristen Windmuller-Luna who is white, as a curator for African art, sparked mixed reactions from the public, especially from the African American Community, who termed it as contrary to their expectation of the museum.

Amidst so much reactions on the selection of Kristen, an activist group, “Decolonize This Place” wrote a letter to the Museum addressing the situation. The said letter called on to the Museum to address ‘public concern’, basing on the decision it made and the reactions from the people. The group said that “the appointment signified the presence of common structures of white supremacy in the art field”. The group further claimed that “the museum gave the public a big surprise, that of all museums, The Brooklyn Museum was not expected to make such a tone-deaf decision”.

“We don’t know all of the factors that went into the decision of Anne Pasternak and others to appoint a white woman (Kristen Windmuller-Luna) as the new chief curator of the Brooklyn Museum’s African collection. But no matter how one parses it, the appointment is simply not a good look in this day and age–especially on the part of a museum that prides itself on its relationships with the diverse communities of Brooklyn.”

On Twitter, tweets were lit. Reactions were seen with the tweeters relating the museum’s decision with an American Superhero film “Blank Panther”. In the film, there is a scene where a female white curator tells Killmonger, a black character, about African Art in a museum.

Killmonger explains to her how the artwork were originated from a fictional land “Wakanda” and were stolen by British soldiers. The curator appears to be surprised by the information.

Following comments that the Museum received, and in its efforts to respond to the activist group “Decolonize This Place”, the management defended its decision. Anne Pasternak who is the director, said in a statement that the museum, in a way that leaves no doubt, stood by its selection of Kristen Windmuller-Luna for the position.

As Ms Pasternak expressed herself, “We were deeply dismayed when the conversation about this appointment turned to personal attacks on this individual”. She mentioned that Kristen indeed had all the required and necessary qualification to hold the position as the curator of the African Art. Kristen has a PhD in African Art history from Princeton University. She has also worked as an educator for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she was responsible of tours.

The Brooklyn Museum, also included a reaction from a well-known Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor, who is also a scholar and arts leader. Okwui who referred to Dr. Windmuller-Luna as his formerly a brilliant student, said that African art deserved better than having art scholars such Kristen get criticized for her skin color.

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