Anne Pasternak, the Shelby White and Leon Levy Director at Brooklyn Museum, issues a statement in support of the appointment of Dr. Kristen Windmuller-Luna as consulting curator of African Arts
In light of recent conversations, I am writing to state unequivocally that the Brooklyn Museum stands by our appointment of Dr. Kristen Windmuller-Luna as the Sills Family Consulting Curator of African Arts. The Museum’s collection of African arts is among the most important and extensive in the nation. Giving the collection the prominence it deserves, in terms of both its aesthetics and cultural value, has been one of this institution’s most pressing priorities. In order to ensure the highest level of scholarly excellence in how we preserve and present our collections of historical African arts, we knew the job required a specialist with a PhD in this area.
Following an extensive yearlong search, our committee, composed of members from various departments, including curatorial, education, and conservation, unanimously selected an extraordinary candidate with stellar qualifications, including extensive museum experience and numerous influential publications. With her anti-colonial approach to curating, she has devoted her professional life to celebrating the individual identities of historical African cultures, and to communicating how those vibrant societies play powerful roles in the world at large. Her priority at the Museum is to create dynamic, multi-vocal installations that speak to all our communities, including those of African descent, both locally and nationally. All of us at the Museum are confident that with her expertise and care, we will revitalize and transform the presentation and interpretation of our collection, and amplify our capacity to illuminate connections and shared narratives with our broad and diverse audience.
“There is no place in the field of African art for such a reductive view of art scholarship” ~Okwui Enwezor, Arts Leader and Scholar
We were deeply dismayed when the conversation about this appointment turned to personal attacks on this individual. Many respected scholars in the field have expressed the same sentiment. As the renowned Nigerian-American curator, scholar, and arts leader Okwui Enwezor has said: “I regret deeply the negative press and social media around the appointment of Dr. Kristen Windmuller-Luna, formerly a brilliant student of mine, to the position of the Sills Consulting Curator at the Brooklyn Museum. The criticism around her appointment can be described as arbitrary at best, and chilling at worst. There is no place in the field of African art for such a reductive view of art scholarship according to which qualified and dedicated scholars like Kristen should be disqualified by her being white, and a woman. African art as a discipline deserves better, especially since the field needs engaged young scholars in order to continue to grow and thrive. She has all of the necessary training to be an influential contributor to the field and has a deeply analytical mind. I am sure that she will be able to present the Brooklyn Museum’s world-renowned collection in a way that reflects both the historical problems surrounding early collecting and its meaning today in very complicated political times.”
“It is right to press museums and other institutions to diversify their leadership. Museums help shape the cultural imagination and contribute to society, so we have a responsibility to bring the broadest possible range of voices into our work” ~ Ann Pasternak
At the same time, the Brooklyn Museum recognizes that the longstanding and pervasive issues of structural racism profoundly affect the lives of people of color. It is right to press museums and other institutions to diversify their leadership. Museums help shape the cultural imagination and contribute to society, so we have a responsibility to bring the broadest possible range of voices into our work. Cultural institutions also need to do much more to support young people of diverse backgrounds in pursuing advanced degrees in art history and succeeding in leadership positions. Please know that every day the Brooklyn Museum is working to advance these efforts and its longstanding and widely recognized commitment to equity in all its forms, including race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.
As we work to meet the very real challenges of our times, we thank all our constituents for engaging with us in these important dialogues. We firmly believe the Museum can serve as a place for courageous conversations—a place of learning, a place that contributes to a better society.
Anne Pasternak, Shelby White and Leon Levy Director, Brooklyn Museum