Brooklyn Museum, Ann Pasternak, African Art, Curator, Consulting Curator, Kristen Winduller-Luna, Okwui Enwezor, response, statement
The Brooklyn Museum

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

The Brooklyn Museum

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.

Anne Pasternak, Shelby White and Leon Levy Director of the Brooklyn Museum
Photo: The Brooklyn Museum

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.”

We agree.

“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


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  1. In a world in which racism has no place/should have no place, then I hope people would accept that a white woman (with a PhD, and being defended by as great a scholar as Okwui Enwezor) could do as excellent a job as would a black woman if she were appointed curator in a museum area devoted to work from Europe or any other area of the world. If white people complained that a black woman (or man) shouldn’t be the curator of “their art” they would be accused of racism, wouldn’t they?
    Everyone should learn to love and respect art from all over the African continent and if a white woman or man has spent their entire career dedicated to learning about and promoting the work, then I think it’s all for the good–just as it’s good if a black man or woman is devoted to work from “white Europe”. Let’s open up the doors and let the sun shine through, in both directions!

    1. Su,

      If Europe was colonized by Africa and white people were stolen from their homes and families and sold across the globe as chattel where they were brutilized for centuries and forced to abandon their language, culture and religions and forced to adopt those of the Africans and Africans continued to benefit from the structural and institutional racism created and sustatained from that historical reality, then the false equivalency of your statement would have merit. However since that is not the case . . .
      I do believe that institutions should be able to hire whoever they want, but if they are public institutions they should also be prepared to address questions about their choices and given our collective history, the questions are certainly appropriate and worthy of examination and discussion. This does not mean that I disagree with their choice, it simply means that it is a choice worthy if question and discussion without the questioner being charged with”reverse racism” since there is no such thing.

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