To Include or Not to Include?

“If art represents the very soul of a people, then this rejection of the Black painter and sculptor is the most insidious segregation of all.”

~ words from the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition Flier in response to Harlem on My Mind: Cultural Capital of Black America, 1900–68, exhibit organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in January 1969

To Include or Not To Include Graphic

PHOTO: Jan Van Raay (American, born 1942) Museum of Modern Art Protest,
May 2, 1970, Black Emergency Cultural Coalition, Art Workers’ Coalition (AWC),
Guerrilla Art Action Group (GAAG), May 2, 1970 Digital C-print. Courtesy of the artist.

To include or not to include? That is the foremost question on every Curator’s mind when deciding which art by which artists will be included in their Museums, from permanent collections to temporary exhibits.

This singular question has yielded an astonishing amount of power to curators within the world of art and art history since the inception of the first known public Museum, the Ennigaldi Nanna, created in Mesopotamia circa 530 BCE. When a curator asks which art by which artist should be included, they are simultaneously asking which artist and their art should be excluded. Whose work is important enough to be considered worthy of viewing by the public?

Unfortunately, the Museum Industry in the Global North, and the international ‘elite’ art world, have a long history of excluding work by women (including trans women) and people of color. Here at MUSEA Intentional Creativity Museum, Curator Shiloh Sophia and the Co-Curators Team have been working diligently to try and hold awareness of the exclusion, misrepresentation or complete lack of representation that is part of the legacy of Museums. We believe there is healing needed, and that consultation, collaboration, and consciously co-creating opportunities for women of color to create and curate their own art exhibits is of utmost importance if integral representation is to occur.

There is always more work to be done, more learning needed, and more listening to a multitude of voices required to be able to include a broad range of diverse representation of artists in a way that honors their work, their lived experiences, and the stories that inform their art within the Museum’s exhibits, the magazine, and all communications. We are committed to this deep listening and emergent process of meaningful collaborative, and sovereign inclusion practices.

We have been fortunate enough to receive much-needed and very generous consultation, participation and leadership from our Sacred ECHOES of the Well Circle for women of color, which curated two phenomenal Museum Shows, Carnaval of Spirit Love and ECHOES Of Poe-Artry in partnership with our Museum in 2022. They will also be hosting their first summit open in March of 2023, focused on the teachings, stories, and artistry of women of color. We have also had the opportunity to host several solo Museum Shows for female artists of color from within our Intentional Creativity community.

As we step into the honoring and celebration of Black History Month, and come face to face with the realities of a disturbing history of exclusionary practices towards Black People and all people of color, by Museums and within the general art world, we are taking time to reflect carefully on this, and allow it to deepen our resolve to center women and people of color in our museum curation and programming.

The effects of exclusion, misrepresentation and erasure of women and people of color has shaped our present day conception of what constitutes ‘art’, and has impacts on major geopolitical issues that have been happening for literally thousands of years. It is a vast topic to cover!

In an attempt to bring some educational awareness through this months MuseumCraft writing, we thought it might be helpful to invite you to read the following article titled: How Black Artists Fought Exclusion in Museums.

A focus of this article is the development of the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC) that formed in order to take a stand for fair, consultative and community-led representation of the Black community within the United States art and museum field. Speaking of their response to the MET’s terribly tokenizing Harlemon My Mind exhibit, the article states:

“…the Harlem art community critiqued the Metropolitan’s failed impulse to become socially relevant: “What was most significant about Harlem on My Mind was the activism of the Black art communities in Harlem criticizing their omission. This community movement changed the discourse of Black art in mainstream American museum politics.”

Including artworks in the show, said protesters, would have given Black painters and sculptors the imprimatur of an august establishment. To the BECC, by omitting the art of Black Americans, the Met defined their work as non-art, Cooks writes. Furthermore, this exclusion was an issue of racial inequality and a lack of representation in the art world: If the Met wanted to open its doors to Harlem, Black artists should be included.”

This article highlights one of countless stories exemplifying historical practices of exclusion and lack of representation for artists of color and what is being done about it. It speaks to the the importance of inclusion efforts being led by the communities a museum or gallery is wanting to include – a true co-creative approach to representative art.

We, at MUSEA Intentional Creativity Museum, believe wholeheartedly in listening to one another’s stories and witnessing each person’s art with true presence and respect. This is how we learn from one another, this is how we inhabit compassion, and provide the space for true representation to come into form. We will always hold space for the art and stories of women and people of color, in their own voice, in their own chosen mediums, and within the respectful framwork of humble curatorial partnership.

We hope you enjoy this further reading, and thank you for holding this significant focus and commitment with us. We will be sharing more articles to bring education and awareness in the areas of art equity and justice in the months to come, and look forward to sharing them with you.

~ Jessica Richmond, Magazine Lead, MUSEA CoCurators