Where Do We Go From Here: Coffee, Care, and Restitution – 我们从这里去哪里:咖啡、护理和恢复

On 16 February, Black Panther was released in the US to a tidal wave of excitement, especially in the African American community – and why not, given its unapologetic blackness, its undeniable coolness and its overall excellence. Featuring great acting, sumptuous costumes, luscious landscapes, action, intrigue, CGI etc., Black Panther had something for everyone – including, as it turns out, people in the art world. Fifteen minutes into the movie, after a few crucial plot points are pinned down, we see an establishing shot: a gleaming white Richard Meier building with a gaudy ‘Museum of Great Britain’ sign on the front. This is the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, standing in as a fictionalized version of the British Museum, we suppose. The next shot is that of a person we will come to know as Killmonger, his back facing us, looking at a vitrine filled with African artifacts. He has apparently requested that the curator in charge of the installation – a soignée white woman who saunters in with a coffee cup and a falsely modest hesitation in her voice – be summoned so he can ask some sly questions:

Killmonger: I was just checking out these artifacts. They tell me you’re the expert.

Curator: Ah. You could say that.

K: They’re beautiful. Where’s this one from?

C: The Bobo Ashanti tribe. Present-day Ghana, 19th century.

K: F’real? What about this one?

C: This one’s from the Edo people of Benin, 16th century.

K: Now, tell me about this one.

C: Also from Benin, 7th century. Fula tribe, I believe.

K: Naaaaah.

C: I beg your pardon?

K: It was taken by British soldiers in Benin, but it’s from Wakanda. And it’s made of vibranium. [Chuckles.] Don’t trip. I’mma take it off your hands for you.

C: [Confused] These items are not for sale.

K: How do you think your ancestors got these? You think they paid a fair price? Or did they take it like they took everything else?

A few seconds later, the curator is lying dead on the floor. Killmonger grabs the Wakandan artifact, along with another mask – the latter just because he’s ‘feeling it’. 

I’m hard pressed to recall any Hollywood blockbuster that so directly addresses questions of colonization and, especially, of the theft of cultural objects, of repatriation and of the complicity of museums built to house such loot. (The thinly veiled reference to the British Museum – which has long been lobbied to return the spoils of its imperial adventures, from the Parthenon Marbles to the Benin Bronzes – was hardly coincidental.) The scene only lasts three minutes, but it establishes Killmonger, at least in my eyes, as the hero of the film – not the Black Panther, the scion of a royal family who struggles to maintain the status quo, ultimately acceding to incremental change (the classic liberal), but the revolutionary: the man willing to destroy the perfect idyll of Wakanda in order to bring liberation to the masses. For Killmonger, decolonizing museums is a necessary step in this emancipation. 


Where Do We Go From Here: Coffee, Care, and Restitution - 我们从这里去哪里:咖啡、护理和恢复

Ryan Coogler, Black Panther, 2018, film stills. Courtesy: Marvel Studios


Where Do We Go From Here: Coffee, Care, and Restitution - 我们从这里去哪里:咖啡、护理和恢复

Ryan Coogler, Black Panther, 2018, film stills. Courtesy: Marvel Studios

A little over a month after the movie premiered, the Brooklyn Museum – a long-established, encyclopedic institution at the heart of one of New York’s most rapidly gentrifying neighbourhoods, with, ironically, one of the most diverse curatorial teams in the US – announced two new appointments. One, that of Drew Sawyer, a white man hired to curate contemporary photography, was received without much fanfare. The other, that of a white woman, Kirsten Windmuller-Luna, hired to be the Sills Family Consulting Curator of the museum’s African department, created a massive outcry – at least in part because of that scene in Black Panther. In posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, commentators appended their incredulity at the tone-deafness of the museum’s hire to a still from the movie. It became a synecdoche for the basis of their critique: namely, that black people know more about African culture than white colonizers ever will. 

Major scholars in the field of African art weighed in, giving interviews and writing op-eds that appeared in the mainstream press, including The New York Times. Professor Steven Nelson of UCLA pointed out the demographic realities of the field. (At PhD level, it is dominated by white women.) Professor Chika Okeke-Agulu of Princeton and the curator Okwui Enwezor both attested to Windmuller-Luna’s knowledge and capacity to do the job, while looking askance at the idea that one’s ability to curate art should be tied to one’s racial identity.

A little over a month later, while the controversy was still raging, the long-planned launch of my book, Whitewalling: Art, Race & Protest in 3 Acts (2018), took place – at the Brooklyn Museum. It was an awkward and serendipitous alignment, given that the text is about the ways in which arts institutions are in the business of protecting whiteness. It was fitting, then, that a book which argued that museums cannot be considered neutral platforms for debate but are, rather, part of the debate – whether they want to be or not – should be launched at a location that was actively being protested online and, thanks to the activist group Decolonize This Place, on site.

The question of the African art curator’s hiring hung heavily over the event. Members of Decolonize This Place were in the audience: the group has long been a critic of the museum’s role in the gentrification of the neighbourhood, among other issues, and seemed to treat the current controversy as an opportunity to revisit its place within larger systems of white supremacy and colonial exploitation. They took a break from demonstrating outside the museum to attend the book launch, perhaps hoping that the museum’s director, Anne Pasternak, who was in attendance, would answer directly their repeated calls for action. They were disappointed on this front, as no one from the museum spoke, save for a brief introduction by the head of public programmes. If there were any doubt that the Hollywood blockbuster was framing people’s responses to the Brooklyn Museum, at least one person in the audience asked about my thoughts on the uproar – which ended with her giving the cross-armed Wakanda salute.

The woman’s question, like most of the debate about the curatorial hire, turned largely upon matters of expertise. The museum and its defenders pointed out that the new appointee was highly trained, with an Ivy League imprimatur and a long list of mentors willing to vouch for her capabilities. Critics made the obvious (and not insignificant) observation that, as long as museums insisted an Ivy League doctorate was a necessary credential, the possibility of hiring a black curator in any field was severely curtailed – given how few black students were admitted to such programmes.

But it seems to me that to focus on expertise is a misreading of that three-minute clip of Black Panther, and that the public outcry over the hire was of a much more fundamental, and devastating, nature. When the movie first came out, I posted about the museum scene on Facebook, and was struck by how many of my friends were fixated on the cup of coffee the curator holds while speaking to Killmonger in the gallery. Perhaps this is unsurprising – I have a lot of curators and conservators in my friends list, and they found this detail especially irritating, as a sign that Hollywood (once again) has no idea how museums work, because no curator worth her salt would ever bring food or drink in close proximity to valuable relics. (It occurs to me that the coffee cup is only the second most unrealistic thing about the curator – the first is that she would even come down to the galleries at all, especially when summoned, not by a rich collector or celebrity, but by a young black man with locs and a fade, in saggy jeans, with a gold-plated grill in his mouth, all hip-hop
style save the slightly scholarly glasses on his face.)

But the coffee cup was crucial, it seems to me – not only as a plot device (the coffee was poisoned), but as a signal of what was at stake. It was not (or not only) that the curator didn’t know the history of the objects she was responsible for; it was that she didn’t care enough to keep them safe. She feigned expertise when she lacked the more crucial quality that every curator should have – the word ‘curate’ means, quite literally, ‘to care for’. The coffee was a sign of her inability to do the most important part of her job – and was all the more damning because it pointed out the racism, not only of the curator herself, but of the institution in which she operated, which cared more about black interlopers than about the art on its walls. ‘You’ve got all this security in here watching me ever since I walked in,’ says Killmonger, before he steals (or repatriates?) the objects. ‘But you ain’t checking for what you put in your body.’ The racism of the institution, in other words, will be its own demise.

Published in frieze, issue 199, November-December 2018, with the title ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’

Main Image: Ryan Coogler, Black Panther, 2018, film stills. Courtesy: Marvel Studios

Aruna D'Souza

Aruna D’Souza lives in Massachussetts, USA. Her book Whitewalling: Art, Race & Protest in 3 Acts was published in May by Badlands, Unlimited.

Issue 199

First published in Issue 199

November - December 2018

Features /

Ryan Coogler
Aruna D'Souza
Black Panther
Curatorial Activism

2月16日,“黑豹”号在美国被放行,掀起了一阵兴奋的浪潮,特别是在非洲裔美国人社区——鉴于它无可辩解的黑暗、不可否认的冷静和它的整体优秀,为什么不放行?黑豹以出色的表演、华丽的服装、美妙的风景、动作、阴谋、CGI等为特色,每个人都有自己的东西,包括艺术界的人。电影开始15分钟,在确定了几个关键的情节要点后,我们看到了一幅建立镜头:一幢闪闪发光的白色理查德·梅尔建筑,前面有一个华丽的“大不列颠博物馆”标志。这是格鲁吉亚亚特兰大的高等艺术博物馆,我们认为它是大英博物馆的一个虚构的版本。下一个镜头是我们将要认识的杀戮贩子,他背对着我们,看着装满非洲人工制品的玻璃瓶。显然,他已经要求召集负责这个装置的馆长——一个带着咖啡杯和虚假的迟疑声闲逛的白人老妇人——来,这样他就能问一些狡猾的问题:杀戮贩子:我只是在检查这些文物。他们告诉我你是专家。策展人:啊。你可以这么说。K:它们很漂亮。这个从哪里来的?波波阿什蒂部落。今天的加纳,十九世纪。克:真的吗?这个怎么样?这张是十六世纪贝宁江户的。克:现在,告诉我这个。也来自贝宁,七世纪。我相信富拉部落。克:那是啊。对不起,请再说一遍好吗?K:这是英国士兵在贝宁拍摄的,但来自Wakanda。它是由维管束组成的。[咯咯笑]不要绊倒。我要把它从你手里拿下来。这些物品是非卖品。克:你觉得你的祖先是怎么得到这些的?你认为他们付出了合理的代价吗?还是他们把一切都拿走了?几秒钟后,馆长躺在地上死了。杀戮贩子抓住了Wakandan的神器,还有另一个面具——后者只是因为他“感觉到了”。我很难回忆起任何一部好莱坞大片,它如此直接地处理了殖民问题,尤其是文化物品的盗窃、遣返和暴力事件。为了建造这样的战利品而建造的博物馆的共谋。(人们一直游说大英博物馆归还其皇家探险的宝物,从帕台农神庙大理石到贝宁青铜器时代,大英博物馆只是朦胧地提及它,这并非巧合。)这一幕只持续了三分钟,但它确立了杀戮贩子,至少在我看来,是这部电影的主人公不是黑豹,一个王室家族的后裔,他们努力维持现状,最终接受渐进式的改变(经典的自由派),而是革命者:这个人愿意摧毁Wakanda完美的田园诗情节,以便给美国带来解放。群众。对《杀戮贩子》来说,非殖民化博物馆是这场解放的一个必要步骤。《瑞安·库格勒·布莱克·潘瑟·2018_菲林·斯蒂尔斯》、《礼貌·奇迹·制片厂》6021602img.《黑豹》,2018,电影剧照。礼貌:Marvel工作室,ryan_coogler_black_panther_2018_._stills.courtesy_mar._studios礼貌:惊奇工作室——电影首映一个月多一点之后,布鲁克林博物馆——一个历史悠久、百科全书式的机构,位于纽约最迅速的绅士化社区的中心,具有讽刺意味的是,它是纽约最多元化的策展团队之一。美国宣布了两项新任命。其中一个是Drew Sawyer,一个被雇佣来主持当代摄影的白人,他没有受到太大的欢迎。另一位是被聘为博物馆非洲部Sills家族咨询馆长的白人妇女Kirsten Windmuller-Luna,她引起了强烈的抗议——至少部分原因是《黑豹》中的那个场景。在Twitter、Facebook和Instagram上的帖子中,评论员们把对博物馆租用的语调失聪的怀疑加到了电影的静止画面上。它成为他们批评的基础的回忆录:即,黑人比白人殖民者更了解非洲文化。非洲艺术领域的主要学者参与其中,接受采访,撰写出现在主流媒体,包括《纽约时报》上的专栏文章。奥克时代。加州大学洛杉矶分校的Steven Nelson教授指出了该领域的人口现实。(在博士级别,它主要由白人女性主导。)普林斯顿大学的奇卡·奥基克·阿古鲁教授和馆长奥克维·恩韦佐都证明了温德穆勒-卢娜的知识和能力胜任这项工作,同时对艺术的策划能力应该与种族偏见相联系的观点表示怀疑。事实上。一个多月后,当争论还在肆虐的时候,我的书《白墙:艺术,种族&安培抗议三幕》(2018)的长期计划发行在布鲁克林博物馆举行。这是一个尴尬和偶然的排列,因为这篇文章是关于艺术机构在保护白人方面的方式。那么,一本书认为,博物馆不能被认为是中立的辩论平台,而是争论的一部分——不管他们愿意与否——都应该在一个积极地在网上抗议的地点发起,这要感谢激进组织德科罗。把这个地方放在现场。非洲艺术策展人的招聘问题严重影响了这一事件。非殖民化的成员在观众中:这个团体长期以来一直批评博物馆在邻里的中产阶级化中扮演的角色,以及其他问题,似乎把当前的争论视为重新审视其在白人至上的更大体系中的地位的机会。殖民地剥削。他们在博物馆外面示威,参加了这场图书发布会,休息一会,也许希望博物馆馆长Anne Pasternak能直接回答他们一再要求采取的行动。他们在这方面感到失望,因为除了公共节目负责人的简短介绍之外,博物馆没有人发言。如果有任何疑问,好莱坞大片正在构思人们对布鲁克林博物馆的反应,观众中至少有一个人问我对这场骚乱的看法——最后她向交叉武装的Wakanda致敬。这个女人的问题,像大多数关于策展雇佣的争论,主要是关于专业知识的问题。博物馆及其拥护者指出,新任命的人员训练有素,拥有常春藤联盟的认可人和一长串愿意证明她能力的导师。评论家发表了明显的(并非微不足道的)评论,即只要博物馆坚持常春藤联盟的博士学位是必须的证书,在任何领域雇用黑人馆长的可能性就被严重地限制了,因为很少有黑人学生被录取参加这样的课程。但在我看来,把注意力集中在专业知识上是对三分钟的《黑豹》的误解,公众对招聘的呐喊是更基本、更具毁灭性的。当这部电影刚上映时,我在Facebook上发布了博物馆的场景,并且被我的许多朋友在美术馆里和Killmonger谈话时专注在馆长端着的咖啡上而震惊。也许这并不令人惊讶——我有很多馆长和馆长在我的朋友名单上,他们发现这个细节特别令人恼火,好莱坞(再一次)不知道博物馆是如何运作的,因为没有一位馆长值得她的盐带食物或饮料接近。珍贵的文物(我突然想到,咖啡杯只是馆长最不现实的第二件事——第一件事是,她甚至会到美术馆来,尤其是当被召唤时,不是被一个富有的收藏家或名人召唤,而是被一个有着头发和褪色的年轻黑人男子召唤,穿着松垮垮的牛仔裤,机智地召唤。他嘴里叼着一个镀金的烤架,全是嘻哈风格的
,除了脸上略带学者气质的眼镜。)但是对我来说,咖啡杯是至关重要的——不仅仅作为一种阴谋手段(咖啡中毒了),而且作为一种危急情况的信号。馆长并不(或者不仅)不知道她负责的物品的历史,而是她不太关心保护这些物品的安全。当她缺乏每个馆长都应该具备的更重要的素质时,她假装有专业知识——“馆长”这个词的字面意思是“关心”。这杯咖啡表明她无力完成她最重要的工作,而且更可怕,因为它不仅指出了馆长本人的种族主义,而且指出了她所在机构的种族主义,该机构更关心黑人闯入者,而不关心墙上的艺术。“自从我进来以后,你就一直在这里监视我,”Killmonger在偷窃(或遣返)之前说。对象。“但是你没有检查你身体里放了什么。”换句话说,这个机构的种族主义将会自行消亡。发表在FreeZe,第199期,十一月- 2018年12月,标题是“我们从何而来?”主要形象:Ryan Coogler,黑豹,2018,电影剧照。礼貌:美国马萨诸塞州奇迹工作室阿鲁娜·D&苏扎·D’苏扎。她的书《白墙:艺术,种族,三幕抗议》五月份由Badlands,Unlimited出版。《199期》第一期,刊登于亚特兰大策展


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