ICA Forum: Representation and Responsibility in Creative Spaces | ICA Boston

ICA Forum: Representation and Responsibility in Creative Spaces | ICA Boston


– Welcome to the ICA. I’m Monica Garza, Director of Education. Thanks, Steve. (audience applauds) Tonight’s discussion is the first of two programs we are
co-hosting this year with the Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research. Over the years, the ICA has
worked closely with the Fellows, the staff and faculty affiliated
with the Hutchins Center on various educational
programs and initiatives. Most recently, we featured
artist John Jennings’ graphic novel adaptation
of Octavia Butler’s influential book Kindred via ICA Reads, an annual program that connects the literary and the visual arts. We are very grateful for both
Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and especially Executive
Director Abby Wolf for quickly embracing the idea to deepen and formalize our
collaboration this year. It truly has been a pleasure developing this program
with you and your team. (audience applauds) Now, about our panelists. We invited these very amazing individuals to have an open conversation on representation and responsibilities. This program will likely not offer one fixed solution but will hopefully encourage more open
and unscripted dialogue among all of us in the room on topics that matter very much to us. In a recent program at the Museum of Modern Art in New York with our moderator, Dr.
Khalil Gibran Muhammad, and civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, they talked about the
importance of history and how it continues to shape us. Khalil said, and I’m gonna
paraphrase here Khalil, the very people we have empowered with a capacity to establish
our normative values and to express our collective will are constantly referring to historical precedent and narratives. Although they were talking specifically of laws and the men that drafted them, much can also be said about
art and cultural history, a very flawed narrative first established by one gender and one race. So, how does this
patriarchal and whitewashed historical narrative shape
our making, our viewing, and our presenting orf art today? We are all here to get closer
to many of these issues, and I thank you for that. I expect that something said tonight may get a little uncomfortable and a little awkward for some, but I ask that we collectively promote a space for
honest, civil dialogue. We are recording this program, so please silence your phones. Now, I’d like to welcome Abby Wolf, Executive Director of the Hutchins Center. (audience applauds) – Hello, everyone. I’m Abby Wolf, as Monica said. Thank you so much, Monica,
for that kind introduction. I don’t have prepared remarks because I’m kinda taking it easy right now and enjoying this space. But I do want to say thank you to the ICA. When Jill Medvedow and Monica
approached us with this idea, it was a very easy yes to say because we really wanted
to participate in this. I think we had no idea at that time, I mean, this topic has been
crucial for a long time, and I think we had no idea how much it would just keep building. Not only through art, but
through other discourses that we’re hearing and
participating in right now. Just a few words about
the Hutchins Center. We’re a multidisciplinary
research institute across the river at Harvard. We have publications, one of which is on sale at the bookstore so I hope you’ll check that out. We have a Fellows program. Nikki Greene on the panel
is a veteran of that. We have some Fellows in the audience. We do many things, but art and art history are absolutely central to all that we do. Visual representation is crucial to the field of African and
African-American research. I’ll end there, but we’re
so pleased to be here. Thank you to the panelists, and enjoy. Thank you for coming. (audience applauds) – There’s one thing I forgot to ask. Am I introducing the panel? – [Woman] Yes. – Okay, alright. (laughs) Well, good evening, everyone. Thanks for being here. It’s a delight. Joey, I see someone who
I know from New York, and there may be some other
folks out in the audience. I bring greetings from
the Schaumburg Center by way of its art collection, which I know is always in conversation with its sister institutions, even though I’m no longer the director. Tonight, we are joined by an amazing group of art professionals
representing a gallerist, a curator, an art
historian, and an artist. Let me start with Sheida Soleiman. Did I say it right? – Soleimani. – Soleimani. She’s an Iranian-American
artist who lives in Providence, daughter of political
refugees who were persecuted by the Iranian government
in the early 1980s. Soleimani makes work that melds sculpture, collage, and photography and highlights her own
critical perspective on historical and contemporary socio=political occurrences in Iran. Her work has been
recognized internationally in both exhibitions and
publications such Artforum, The New York Times, Huffington Post, Interview, and VICE Magazine. She’s currently teaching at both Brandeis and RISD. Some of her students are in the audience. We’re gonna get to see a
little bit of her work. Welcome, Sheida. – Thank you. – To her left is Eva. Yes. (audience applauds) To her left is someone who
likely needs no introduction. This is home turf for Eva Respini. She is the Barbara Lee
Chief Curator at the ICA. She’s presently at work on the exhibition Art in the Age of the
Internet: 1989 to Today, which examines how the Internet has radically changed the field of art. We are grateful that she’s joining us this evening as both host and participant. – Thank you. (audience applauds) – Dr. Nikki Greene is an art historian examining African and
African-American identities, music, the body, feminism
in the 20th century, and contemporary art. She is the author of Rhythms of Grease,
Grime, Glass, and Glitter. That’s funky. (audience laughs) The Body in Contemporary Black Art. It presents a new interpretation of the work of David Hammons, Renee Stout, Maria Magdalena Campos
Pons, Radcliffe Bailey, and considers the
intersection between the body, Black identity, and the musical
possibilities of the visual. She is currently at Wellesley, Wellesley, excuse me, Wellesley College, and she is a Fellow at the Hutchins Center at Harvard University, and the visual editor
of Transition Magazine. – Yes, Fellow last year. (audience applauds) I had to do a little curating because there’s a lot
of really great things she has going on right now. So, pardon for the slip. Camilo Alvarez was born in ’76 in New
York, resides in Boston. He is Dominican as well as living in Santo Domingo for seven years. He’s a graduate of Skidmore College with a Masters in Liberal
Arts and Museum Studies from Harvard University. He has worked, among
other places, at Exit Art, Socrates Sculpture Park, MIT’s List Visual Arts Center, and the Skowhegan School
of Painting and Sculpture. He is currently the owner, director, and preparator, of Samson. Did I say it correctly? – Sam-sun-ya. (audience laughs) – Sam-son-ya, Formally, Samson
Projects, founded in 2004. Samson’s Projects, Sam-son-ya’s programs and exhibitions have been viewed by, among others, The New York Times, AfriForum, The Boston Globe, and Flash Art. Let’s give a round of applause. (audience applauds) The old saying being in the community is not the same thing as
being of the community got me to thinking recently about this question of representation and responsibility in creative spaces. I certainly learned this many times as a native-born Chicagoan when I found myself leading Black Harlem’s oldest cultural institution
the Schaumburg Center, a place where being from
Harlem actually means something to your capacity to speak for and within that community. From that experience, I also thought about the spaces, the creative spaces within
the field that I know best. As a scholar of African-American history, of Black history, some of the most innovative scholarship was pinned first by White scholars looking to overturn the
conventional wisdom of the field, the practice of American history, that had systematically denied Black agency and humanity. Just as a signpost of what
I mean, it was indeed, we are essentially a century
from the Birth of a Nation, the first Hollywood, well, motion picture release equivalent of the first major Hollywood production that retold the story of Reconstruction. But it wasn’t just the
story of White supremacy’s emergence as a major feature
of national reconciliation, a moment of actually heralding the Klan as having come and literally save the day from the terror of Black men
as rapists and criminals, resonant with these times. It was also the works
of historians themselves for more than a generation before that film that had informed, in their scholarship, the very ideas that took root in the creative space of what we know today to be the big screen. It was about 50 years later
when the work of scholars like Kenneth Stampp or August Meyer or more popularly known, Howard Zinn or most recently, Eric Foner, took to the task of
correcting, on their own terms, in the creative and imaginative
ways that they could, tell a more complete,
truthful, and honest story of African-American agency and humanity, a political accomplishment, and the deeply-rooted contributions of Black people to the very nature of American democracy. But what was it about their commitment that shielded them from
getting anything in particular wrong because they were
not of the community? In other words, it was something about the commitment to the work itself to being as close as one could to the lived experiences of those who had struggled in this vain and to having as wide a field of view for telling that story that in many ways helped to inspire the emergence of social history in the 1980s of which so
many of my colleagues today are indebted to for being able to tell the story from the bottom up. Here we are, looking across the landscape
of our contemporary moment where we see any number of examples of this question of community visa vi representation and responsibility. I heard recently, for example, David Simon and George Pelecanos on NPR talking about being two White men and telling a story of female sex workers in Times Square in the 1970s. By most accounts, so far, they’ve done a pretty good job of it. We certainly have watched the success of Ava DuVernay’s 13th, one of the most successful Black women directors working today, both in narrative film as
well as documentary film. Essentially, tell a
story of the experiences of Black men from slavery
to mass incarceration. I even think about Molly Crabapple’s work as a graphic artist, as an illustrator, in collaboration with
Bryan Stevenson and Jay-Z. A White woman being
commissioned to tell the story of slavery and mass
incarceration on one hand, and for Jay-Z, the story
of the war on drugs. Now don’t get me wrong, I think a lot about being an early fan of say, American Idol, another form of popular
culture in creative space, which for years rewarded
blue-eyed soul performers instead of African-Americans
who were certainly as gifted, if not better, at the art form. The Voice, in my opinion, created a space to indeed detach voice from the body in terms of how one initially
selected the contestants. Thinking about that detachment, I’m also reminded of
some of the controversy attending to the selection
of the Chinese sculpture, and I’m sure to not get this correct, Lei Yixin of the Hunan Province for being the sculptor on the
Martin Luther King monument, which now is on the Washington Mall. He himself, not only being detached
from the community, was on a temporary work
visa in St. Paul, Minnesota, when he was discovered. He does not speak English, and indeed, insisted upon
using Chinese stone workers to reassemble Martin Luther King after he’d been literally built in China. Here we have a wide panoply of tensions between being in the community and of the community and what kinds of
contributions one can make to the human condition to the question of how we are to see each other, and what do we owe each other. The last thing that I think sets in motion the conversation we’re
going to have tonight is the response to the
Guggenheim’s exhibition of Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, two Chinese artists whose work
has subsequently been pulled, Dogs That Cannot Touch, a 2003 video recording of two pit bulls on treadmills harnessed in such a way that they cannot actually fight. According to The New York Times, these works have been exhibited in museums in Asia, Europe,
and the United States, but the Guggenheim regrets that explicit and repeated threats of violence had made our decisions necessary. As an arts institution committed to presenting
a multiplicity of voices, we are dismayed that we
must withhold works of art. One wonders to what degree it is the scale and scope of the dissent that
has shaped the decision about the capacity to embody the pain, in this case, of animals in a work of art. So, I wanna trouble, in this way, how we think about the moment
when we choose not to accept the representation of
someone else’s experience if we think of the larger relationship
of we as human being and as animals. Finally, Roxane Gay, in 2015, wrote an essay remarking on the phenomenon of empathy poured out in the wake of Cecil the Lion’s murder by a dentist on safari in Zimbabwe. She says on Twitter, I joked, “I’m personally going to start “wearing a lion costume
when I leave my house “so if I get shot, people will care.” She was responding to the
recent killing of Samuel DuBose, a Cincinnati motorist killed while unarmed during a traffic stop by a White officer, Ray Tensing, who only recently has been
acquitted of all charges. It seems to me that we might start the
question by thinking about what is the work required to be able to be responsible to the representation of humanity that we all engage in as artists or as creative people? One other way to think about it is what role does historical literacy and cultural proximity play
in assessing the question of representation and responsibility? Sheida? – Oh man, you seem ready. I mean, I guess, I’m already thinking about
what makes something okay, I’m gonna read off my little brain chart, and does that mean that
you have experience? Like you’re saying do you have to belong to a community or not? I guess the first thing I
always think about is using, I guess I’m gonna use
myself as an example here because that’s the closest
thing I have to go off. My work, you know, uses
a lot of human rights and torture victims that
I don’t personally know. I’m not a human rights violation victim, but I have parents that
are, or my mother is. I grew up with stories of my mother telling me about her time in
prison, about her torture. Those were my bedtime stories that I went to bed with
at age five or six, thinking about what a
prison cell looked like. Getting older and starting to
realize that these are things, I went to school and I didn’t learn how to speak English
until I was about six. Since this was so normal
to me, and I got to school, I thought everyone had parents that were human rights violation victims. When I started talking to
the other kids in school, I was like so, what did your
parents’ prison look like? It didn’t go over too well. – Are you serious? – Yeah. – Wow. – It wasn’t normal to them and they were like who is this kid? What’s going on? It took me a second to
step back and be like, okay, this isn’t a shared experience. How can I use an experience that maybe I have not personally had but one that I’m extremely close to, to start talking about issues that I think are extremely important. That’s kind of what I
started doing at a later age. I started trying to take on my mother’s story earlier in my works when I was in
college, but most recently, I’ve been working with human rights violation lawyers in Iran on the ground that give me information about victims that I try to connect with families of women that are executed as often as possible to try to spread the news about what’s happening
in the Middle East outside of what the West
is accustomed to hearing. For me, I think responsibility and representation comes
from having some type of dialogue, direct dialogue
with an experience. – I define that as a journey
of historical literacy, but that is a kind of historical literacy. It’s a personal biography. It’s a proximity to people who actually lived that experience. Now Nikki, Dr. Greene, you are, you’re an art historian. You have a kind of built-in distance, but you also have an advantage because you have disciplinary
rules that require you to prove thought the
preponderance of evidence that you know something
about these people. Talk about, maybe even think about it in terms of the Dana Schutz controversy in terms of how you would think about an artist’s work in the peeling back of the layers of how an artist comes
to a work like that. It can be an abstraction. It can be direct. But think about sort of when you engage as an art historian,
what are you looking for to understand why an artist
comes to a work like this? What is the moment of creation that you can connect the dots? (audience laughs) – So… You know, I think my role as a professor, and for those of us who
have the privilege to devote our lives to teaching but also researching, the joy of enjoying the mind and thinking of ideas and how we can convey them. I find that my role is always about giving students access. That access can happen at
a number of entry points. I’ll start with just the classroom. I think there’s a certain
level of access to be, of course, at a place
like Wellesley College. I’ve also taught at a place like Rutgers University
in Camden, New Jersey, very different places,
very different sites. I’m originally from Newark, New Jersey. My access point was the Newark Museum. For me, and I’m gonna get to this peeling back layers.
– That’s okay, take your time. – I won’t make it too
long of a road there. For me, to have access
to the Newark Museum as a poor black girl in New Jersey meant that the Newark
Museum had to be free. Thankfully, safe place, my mother could take both
myself and my brother. I could have access to a certain kind of visual literacy at a relatively young age. Well, four or five years old. That is my starting point
that I can, at four or five, have access to a space that would allow me to begin to think about images as a way of explaining
the world around me. As a professor now, I have students who, I have some students who
grew up going to museums, traveled the world. I did a section on the
Parthenon last week. How many of you have
been to the Parthenon? I have four or five hands in the room. I have not been. (audience laughs) But I taught the section anyway. (audience laughs)
– It’s overrated. – I still taught it. But for those students who may have never come across a Parthenon or who may never come across a Dana Schutz painting, I
have not taught her yet, but I think that my role is to say we can enter the world of the Parthenon, we can enter the world of someone like David Hammons
who was on display here, and may be it’d be helpful to go an image. I’m an art historian. – We should poll the audience to see if they know who that is. – Well, his name is on there. David Hammons, who can
enter a space like this, and I don’t wanna take up too
much time explaining that, but my role then is to be able to give then a
wide variety of examples so that when they come across something like Open Casket by Dana Schutz, that there’s a way in which
we talked about the history of slavery. I’m teaching a survey
of African-American art right now to be able to track. I haven’t gotten to this
Dana Schutz controversy because I wanna start from a certain historical moment and for me, that’s thinking about the
Trans-Atlantic slave trade. We’re in the 19th Century now. We’re not gonna touch that because I haven’t given them
the tools yet to unpack it. Now, for the visitor who’s coming who’s not in my classroom
or in a classroom at all and they come across that, that then becomes a different conversation about what all of our roles are to think about what’s the
kind of visual literacy that we want to provide
people on a daily basis. Does that mean that we need to be much more careful
and say, the news media, that when they come across a slain Black body that they don’t accept that as normal, that they don’t take that as oh, that’s another day in the United States. It’s fine to show an image of a 15-year-old boy laying
slain in the street, right? If we don’t have that
kind of visual literacy, then we come across a painting like Open Casket with probably not enough tools to unpack it. I think the conversations
we have thereafter and the role that institutions, like what we’re doing
here tonight with the ICA, can offer an opportunity to get that dialogue going so we can kind of deal with it in a way that sort of
makes sense to everyone. – [Khalil] Go ahead, jump in. – I mean, I’m with you, absolutely. I think you’re talking
about teaching students from a certain socio-economic background, and I’m in the same position. Most, I’m not gonna say
all students at RISD, but most students at RISD come from a certain level of privilege,
same with Brandeis. Most of them come to school and they know how to talk
about post-modernism. They’re already thinking about
art historical references and how it shapes their work, and what they can and can’t
do and what the rules are. That comes with a level
of privilege and access, having had money to be
able to go to museums, having been able to have
the access to see the work. For them to be able to unpack it, the tools are so necessary. I’m with you 100%, and if we don’t teach or, I don’t think it’s about
teaching as much as. If we don’t show or give the visual literacy to people to
be able to unpack these dialogues, there’s no
way to come to any point. I think it’s such a convoluted and conflicting
thing in the first place. I’ve been having this discussion with my students in my
Art in Activism class when the painting was created. There’s still, there’s
still such a divide. I don’t think there’s an
easy answer to it fully. – I wanted to play with
this just a moment longer, and I’m gonna invite Eva
and Camilo to get in. One way that I wanna say back what I heard is that the illiteracy about Black history makes it possible for the art to do violence, both potentially in an intended way and in an unintended way. Of course, we know that the power of this kind of imagery was
violent and intended to be so as a celebration of spectacle
lynchings, for example, in an earlier period. But the harm that is anticipated for at least some, if
I take the perspective of some of the activists and protestors, both in the context of
ICA as well as Whitney, one could take your observation
and say that essentially, the museum itself has not done enough to educate its audience about the context in which
the art itself lives. The counterexample would be that so much of what you find
in fine art museums, essentially, everything before modern art, is very much a didactic history telling because so much of it is portraiture. Any docent tour is going
to be, essentially, a story about either the art creator or the subject in the work. It seems to me that
what we take for granted with regard to European history, of American history, without the contributions of non-Whites, is a narrative that overlays even the infrastructure of the museum space and the gallery space itself. It’s not a neutral. It’s not a white wall. It is a wall that in conversation with what’s in lots of
people’s heads already. Typically, Black folks
are much more suspicious of what’s in White folks heads when they encounter this
art on these white walls. The question I have for Camilo and Eva is you as a gallerist and you
as a curator at a museum, what do you do and what can you do in the space itself when the traditions of confining the text itself in conversation with
the visual may limit you in terms of how much
you should or can say. Is there any way around this? Is there a way to remain
either the gallery or the museum in light of this history? – I think what you’re both
saying is absolutely right, that there’s on one hand, the
responsibility of the artist, and in the case with Dana Schutz, what the controversy around the Whitney, I think what’s more crucial is the responsibility of the institution that has chosen to show
that work and in the context in which it has chosen to show that work. That’s not the
responsibility of the artist to explain the context of their work. That’s what we do as curators. We’re translators, and we’re
translators to our publics and we should know who our publics are. If that given subject has political, social, historical resonances that are difficult to talk about, that are very divisive, then I really
believe that the institution should take on providing
a context for those works. Then there’s the larger context of what museums do in general, telling the story of art history. In our case, contemporary art. I think in there, we make choices as an institution on who we show, what we collect, what we choose to be in
our permanent collection where our audiences come
back again and again and visit works and learn from the works in our
permanent collection. I think the choices we make there, that’s a responsibility as well, and provides a context for the works that we show in a temporary exhibition. I think there too, the responsibility for an institution is to be as diverse as possible in the way that we think
about the creative act, so diversity of mediums,
diversity of methodologies, diversity of the people
whoa are making the work. How do you get that diversity is also to look at
yourself as an institution. Those people who are producers
of content in a museum, curators, educators,
performing arts curators, in order to have the most dynamic program, I believe that also those
producers need to be diverse in their viewpoints
and their expertise. I think, you know, tangentially what we’re
really talking about here is the privilege of museums as historically, places of White privilege and the fact that most museums, the museum field is not diverse. There was a AMD study
that came out, sorry, the Mellon Foundation
commissioned a study in 2015. That study said that 72% of museum staff were White. The most diverse departments are facilities and securities, so when you get to the more senior, leadership, curatorial, education, conservation, the
content-producing departments, it’s even less diverse. – Well, education is on the better end of the bad scale. (laughs) Right, no surprises there. – So, when you talk about
access, Nikki, I mean, for me and for us in the
museum field and institutions, all of this is in the background and informs how we do or
do not provide context for something like a Dana Schutz painting or everything else that we do. That web, you know, is difficult. One has to approach it
through many different facets, and we have to be vigilant, I think, in how we are understanding
ourselves as museums, but how we put forward
the work that we do, the platforms that we give and the artists that we choose to give that platform too. – I wanna come back to that. Camilo, you have control. You have authority. – Right. (audience laughs) – That’s right. You’re the counterexample. Talk to us about what you’re able to accomplish in a space where you get to control what goes on the walls. – Well, as a proprietor in
this commercial art world, I’m kind of a diamond, and
actually, that’s my birthstone. There’s very few men of color
in the commercial art world. It’s incredibly, dominantly White. It’s actually interesting, the Dana Schutz painting
was first exhibited in a German gallery,
and then it came here. The context was shifted from White Germans to the Whitney. – [Khalil] This is Camilo’s gallery. – As a gallerist, luckily I’ve been exposed to a fair amount of art. I like to traverse among poor, wealthy, artists, curators. I have this kind of really untraditional, wavy character slash situation, which is incredibly privileged, but at the same time and because of that, besides considering myself a translator. I can speak both many languages, which is also a set of skills I have, which lets me talk to many more people, but in turn, I also
consider myself a muffler. I kind of have to clean, a catalytic converter cleans the message. I can talk to curators
with the latest jargon, but then I can talk to a collector that’s just coming off the street, a young collector versus a
very establish collector. Then, we’re talking to artists as well. Mixed in between emerging, established, and mid-career artists, is a whole other different
spectrum as well. For example, this image
shows Henry Taylor. That was a painting that was in his first solo at the studio
museum called Tasered. It’s actually an image of his brother being recently just tasered. Then there’s a detail of this other work. It’s a piece of a print portfolio by Keris Salmon who’s by trade a journalist. Of course, it’s an art form, but she’s also a filmmaker,
another art form. She is married to this White man who comes from a very,
very old, wealthy family. She did this research through plantations. This is imagery from slave plantations in Tennessee mostly,
if I recall correctly. But again, just being able to traverse from Henry to Keris to then showing. Right now, I have handcuffs, jade handcuffs by Ai
Weiwei in the gallery. I feel incredibly lucky
because of that, but then also, I have to be able to talk to curators or historians and then
students off the street. Because I’m in Boston,
it’s an educational hub, very different from New York which is the commercial center of the contemporary art world. I was in New York yesterday,
and then I’m here now. I was talking to students from
undergrad to post-doc levels, then also, high schoolers. That’s what part of my methodology slash joie de vivre is to be able to talk to so many different people. Again, coming from New York,
where you’re exposed to a lot, it’s incredibly important for people to understand that the message, nobody works in a vacuum and
the message is very wide. Talking about historical literacy, responsibility is that in order to be able to understand
all these different, diverse ethnicities, and gender, and generations, you
gotta get exposed to them. Again, proximity. Whenever I travel, I’m
also lucky to travel. The art world takes me everywhere. I talk to taxi cab drivers. I mean, it helps I used
to drive a cab, right? But then I enter these
billionaires’ homes. – You’re gonna have an HBO series. – Oh my gosh, it’d be amazing. – Confessions of Camilo. – Again, as a gallerist, but again, it’s this commercial realm
where to a certain degree, you’re supposed to provide entertainment, but then also in the load, education. Then also, because you’re in this slightly speculative mode where people are also thinking about
these artworks as assets, there’s this also, like, I mean, again, another word
for gallerist is dealer, which I really don’t like. – So let’s talk about that a little bit. I wanna get you back involved ’cause you’re a practicing artist. You don’t wanna starve. – Sure, I try not to. – You’ve got a day job,
so that helps presumably. How does money either reward literacy in proximity for artists of color as compared to White artists? Are there higher standards for being literate about
what it is your work is supposed to do or is it doing as compared to White artists who may be freer to explore the
canvas in any way they– The question may imply a point of view. I really don’t know. I put it back to you. How does money matter in these questions about the choices that you as a gallerist,
make, you as a curator, and even you as an artist attempting to make work that is both politically relevant and
transformative and at the same time may have a audience for purchase? – Sure, I mean, I think
a lot about, I mean, the art world is a capitalist construct. I am lucky enough to be
a teacher and professor, and I really enjoy to, but
I also do it because it funds my practice, and my
practice is what I really love. I also don’t sell a lot of my images, A, because I feel uncomfortable
selling to collectors that don’t engage with the content. – [Khalil] Let’s talk about that. That’s the point. How do you know this? What is your standard for saying, “I don’t trust this person?” – [Sheida] Well, I am lucky enough to work with two gallerists that know and support the
type of work that I make and aren’t going to just
put it in front of someone who’s not engaged with that content. I think, for me, people
are like, oh, well, we have this collector, in past before I’d been
working with my two galleries, Edel Assanti in London and
Andrew Rafacz in Chicago. In the past, people have
been like, oh, well, we have this collector that
just loves Iranian artists. I’m like, well, that’s great. Are they looking at
miniatures or is it rugs? What’s your idea? (audience laughs) What are you thinking about? Are they interested in
human rights violations? – Does the color palette match my piece? – Yeah, or sometimes I’ll
get people who are like, oh, well, it’s really poppy, and I’m like, oh, tell
me what poppy means? You wanna talk poppy? Tell me what that’s about? I’m not interested in having my work be on the wall of someone
who’s just going to look at it and collect it for its
aesthetic sensibilities. I do think about aesthetic
sensibilities as a Trojan horse. If you think about a Trojan horse, and this is an analogy that I’ve gotten from a very good friend of mine. If you think about the Trojan
horse, it was given as a gift. You see it and you’re
like, oh, it’s a present. It looks so good, I’ll let it in. I think about that with
aesthetics the same way. This looks visually appealing
in some way, shape, or form. It has some type of sensibility in its colors or composition. I could look at it at and be
like, wow, that looks cool. And what’s the next step? Once you let it in, then
you have to deconstruct it, and that’s what I’m interested in doing. If someone wants to fuck
with deconstructing my stuff, then I can fuck with them. (audience laughs) Pardon my language. – Speaking of the harm that is being done, you have a chance here to introduce your work to this audience. Maybe tell us a little bit what we see. – Okay, so these are
from an earlier series that I started in 2013
called National Anthem kind of going of the, I
keep on looking up there, but they’re actually right there, going off the fact that
Iran’s national anthem has been changed three times, each time suiting the most oppressive regime that’s come into power. In 1952, Mohammad Mosaddegh was overthrown in a coup d’etat by the United States CIA in efforts to try to make, you know, put someone of
Western influence in power in Iran to make the oil trade
more, you know, accessible. In 1979, there was another revolution where Ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini came into power and instilled his oppressive regime that’s still in power today. Because of such, I think a lot of Americans, Westerners,
Europeans, Westerns in general, I think think about Iran only in the terms of the nuclear deal, oil, and then sometimes I’ll get like oh, does everyone have to wear a hijab? What is it, a burka? I’m like, alright, we
could talk about that too, but there’s a lot more severity to the issues that are going on in Iran, especially since the revolution. It’s a religious,
totalitarian dictatorship. – [Khalil] And talk about women because women are the primary
subjects of your work. – [Sheida] Yes, women
specifically, I’ve decided. Well, in this series, National Anthem, I was focusing on a broad range of human rights violation victims, people that were executed
for being homosexual, people who were executed for protesting or standing up for their beliefs. The more I looked at it,
after making this series, these are two specific women. On the right is Reyhaneh Jabbari who was executed for attacking her rapist, and on the left is an acid burn victim that had acid thrown in her face after she was caught
not wearing her chador, not hijab, correctly. I’m also thinking a lot about what makes these types of things possible. I’m looking a lot at gross
domestic products reports, rice, fish, oil, pomegranates, being a lot of agricultural
outputs of Iran. All of them are spoiled by
the oil industry and trade. The oil industry and trade in concert is what makes a lot of these human rights violations possible. In the hands of a patriarchal government, women are suffering. It’s not because they
can’t show their hair. I’m sure that is some of the suffering, absolutely, for sure, but it’s the suffering that occurs because they can’t stand up for themselves because the government
doesn’t allow them to do so. So Reyhaneh Jabbari did
not even get a trial. She was, you know, she had a court with a sharia judge, which is a man and only
goes by sharia rule, which is an eye for an eye. She didn’t have a fair case whatsoever before she was executed and was imprisoned for a long time before she was executed. This is National Anthem. The newer series of images, I started thinking a lot about
my experience with my mother. I’m not, you know, I’m lucky enough and privileged enough to not be a human rights violation victim, but I am raised by a
woman who has severe PTSD and has dealt with a lot of these issues. I was a like a child therapist. She didn’t talk to anyone else
about it, so I learned a lot. I got to see her scars when I was little, and I got to see what her
prison cell looked like, and I got hear about what happened to a lot of the other
women that were in prison. I started thinking about how in the previous series of
work that I was making, I was thinking about human
rights violation victims. But more and more, I noticed
that it was a lot of women. I wanted to start focusing
on a lot of the women whose histories have been erased. I started collecting
images, speaking, first, it was through Google
Search before I started getting involved with human
rights violation lawyers. I was like, okay, well, how
many of these women can I find? Amnesty International just covered one. Maybe I’ll search it. I realized in between 2013 and 2015, Amnesty International only covered nine cases of women that
were executed in Iran. I was like there’s gotta be more. My mom told be there was a lot. What’s going on? Why can’t I find them? Through starting communication
with families and lawyers, I started gaining access to information about women that have been
executed and cannot be found. There’s no trace of them. My work is to try to
bring attention to women that have been erased
from history in a way. If you look at the execution records that have been shared with me, which I actually just
published a ‘zine of, a lot of the records
will say unnamed woman executed August 4, 2016, for drug charges, but it won’t elaborate, and then there won’t be a name. Very rarely you could find
a name, and whenever I do, I try to pull a picture
and find something. – That’s incredible. That’s really incredibly powerful, both in its aesthetic as well as in the stories that you’re able to tell from it. We’re gonna open to questions
in just a couple of minutes, so I want to round out in maybe the last– – That was fast. – Few prompts. Yeah, it goes by quickly, right? Yes, okay, just checking. – Damn, alright, I hope
I didn’t talk too much. – I wanna refine the
question on money to Eva, and that is that so, I’m on the Board of
MOMA, Barnes Foundation, very well aware of the amount of money it takes to run a museum, very well aware of how money
moves in and out of museums, who the museum goers are, who the Board members are. I am there for representation,
so let’s be clear about that. Therefore, when the criticism of ICA and mounting
Schutz’ larger exhibition, partly the strength of the criticism, the passion with which the
criticisms was engaged, was around, essentially, the money to be made by Schutz by virtue of being in the ICA show period. I don’t know that there’s
a resolution to that because that opens up
all sorts of questions that, of course, the Guggenheim
itself is wrestling with. But I do want you to talk about just sort of what is the relationship between a major museum and mounting exhibitions of living
artists and how that work moves into the commercial realm? That’s essentially what many of the community activists were saying. It’s not simply that she did a bad thing in their eyes. It’s that she will be rewarded
for the controversy itself, and so that any exhibition in this moment will ultimately redound to her benefit. – I mean, she was famous
before she got here. Unfortunately, the historical
literacy is unknown. I think I showed, I’m
on the advisory board, just for, here, I mean, representation, but then also for
inclusion I think as well. – Me too. – I think, of course, she’s also a mother, so I think there’s an
empathic connection there. Nobody owns paint, so I think for her to take that on was incredibly difficult and
incredibly courageous, I think. Even on turn, also I
think for anybody else, had a Black and anybody that
wrote the letters to here, was also incredibly courageous to do that. I think just the fact
that it’s actually this, this uncomfortable conversation is happening is incredibly important. I think I can see both sides, and I think it’s just very
essential that both sides happen. I think it’s incredibly important for an institution to take that on. The show was scheduled before the controversy started, before she probably even
made the painting, I think. – Yes, that’s true. Our show was scheduled
before she made Open Casket. I’m sorry, I’m just trying to kind of go back to your question. I think, actually because
Dana is successful and has been successful in her
career since very early on, I do actually think that’s
part of the conversation. I think what’s unfortunate
is that that painting and this artist, a White woman, becomes the center of the conversation about race and representation. Why is it that this White artist is the flashpoint for this conversation, unfortunately, where there
are many other artists, including in our program
and on view at the Whitney at the same time, that
were maybe, I would say, dealing with the issue of representation and race in more nuanced ways? That’s maybe on the side. I would say when it comes to museums, money, collectors, and
sort of how we operate, I think of my role as sort of twofold. In one way, we rely, as you know on the
generosity of individuals. Museums in the United States,
mostly, are private museums. It’s individuals who fund us, and even when you buy a ticket for $15, which seems like a lot of money, it’s just a fraction of paying salaries, keeping the lights on, and
hosting free programs like this. On one hand, we really
rely on those individuals. On the other hand, I see my role as a curator in providing opportunities to show work that maybe doesn’t sell,
that is not commercially something blue chip or something
that collectors go after. It could be large scale video. It could be installation work. It could be work that doesn’t
do well on the market. It doesn’t mean we don’t show work that does well on the
market, and obviously, Dana Schutz does well on the market. I also see my role as supporting artists when I make acquisitions of works of art. I have the pleasure of
working with living in artists which means I can buy their work, and it benefits them and benefits in their making more work. For example, here just a couple of acquisitions we made recently. This monumental Kara Walker work which was on view last summer here. We had just acquired that through the generosity
of Barbara Lee, so again, an individual who helped
us acquire this work. Ellen Gallagher is another
person who acquired recently, another fantastic work, Deluxe. Then two fantastic works, in fact, one sculpture from the Nari Ward show, and then Nari gave us the accompanying video as a kind of thanks. Also, we have Steve
McQueen’s Ashes on view. That was a major acquisition we made. For me also, the finances are, you know, I see I have an opportunity to support artists in their practice. By acquiring their work it doesn’t only become part of our narrative, but it is an opportunity yo then support their practice going on. – We’re gonna bring home a kind of reconciliation of sorts between the incredibly
literate Dr. Greene, and a series of artist she admires and has been writing about. If there is a moment to celebrate the work of artists who are of these communities and you have a translator
here to celebrate that work, why don’t you share with us a few pieces. Then we’ll go to Q and A. – Well, I’ll start with
some of the artists, and I’ll do this very quickly so that we have time for questions. I’ll start with the artists, just a few who are
included in the transition. – [Khalil] Dr. Greene, can
I just ask you one thing? And to, also, if you can,
for some of these artists, lay bare how they would maybe be thinking about this question
in light of their work? – [Nikki] The question of? – [Khalil] Of representation,
responsibility. If you can. – [Nikki] Sure. Well, starting with Ikere Jones, who is a, it’s a fashion line, and Wale Oyejide is a lawyer by profession but also a fashion designer. Raj Walker took the photograph. This I think is a really special way of thinking about the multiple ways in which money and maybe something that we wouldn’t consider fine art, which is fashion art, can be included. In his work, in those blazers that you see there, it’s kind of classic, European, Rococo paintings that he then infuses with Black bodies. For a particular, this particular spread, he had a fashion show in Italy using refugees who arrived in Italy. For any of you who have been to Italy, you know that this is a huge issue among Italians in terms of the place of immigrants within the country. Being able to then wear works that kind of disrupt the European canon I think is really significant. Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle
just had a wonderful show at the Californian
African-American Museum. She too thinks about disrupting the male gaze. She thinks about how, she also does performance work. In this particular example, you’re looking at a colonial postcard that then she, that she then included collage that also includes a kind of urban topography on top
of this woman’s body to kind of interrogate
how an African woman’s body within Africa then gets reinterpreted and consumed by the European, especially the European male gaze. Joyce J. Scott, this is huge. I deliberately put down the measurements. This is only a 10-inch, almost 11-inch, piece of beads demonstrating, basically, a portrait of Rodney King. Taking something that we, again, disrupting this idea of what
we expect to see in art, fashion, jewelry or beading, and taking a brutal and violent occasion in our history
of Rodney King being brutalized by the LAPD, and then creating something
aesthetically interesting but nevertheless still
kind of poking at you to consider what that violence did. Deana Lawson, who’s a photographer, teaches at Princeton
now, raised in New York, she took a series of photographs for LIFE Magazine of the family members of the, of the tragedy, the Charleston shooting. I had an opportunity to interview her. To consider how, how does the presence of the slain victims continue to live on in the memories of the family members, sort of after the tragedy, that their presence remains in their home and in our memory as it becomes a part of how we now understand the implication of White supremacy? We’re seeing it still
played out on people’s lives in the violence that occurs there. – Can I stop you there? ‘Cause that was amazing. (audience applauds) So, 10 minutes? 10 minutes. Floor’s open, and a comment or a question. It’s kind of easy, just one or the other
if you wouldn’t mind. Do we have a floating mic
or do we have a stand? – [Woman] No we’ll just
repeat the question. – Got it. Floor’s open. Anyone? Yes. – [Woman] Thank you all for
such a really stimulating event. (speaker doesn’t have a microphone) One of the things that
I really grapple with is the question of theme as a really critical part of artistic production and acception, but also the constitutions
of civil society. Also, when empathy may be accommodating, Nikki, what you called a kind of illiteracy about race and history. How we, as curators, as artists, as educators, and as viewers, try to grapple with these issues. That’s the one comment I wanted to make. The other comment is about thinking about Eva’s comments about how much the ICA is doing to try and diversify the works on view, the artists, people in the institution, but also thinking about how frequently, at the two I worked at, diversity often means expanding the table to take in more people, but not changing the fundamental
assumptions as a key shift. In particular, considering racial issues, it’s always about people of color and not about kind of Whiteness
as a racial construct. In the wake of Charlottesville,
I think about this a lot. It’s very uncomfortable to think about Whiteness as an identity. Something that we don’t want to claim yet we are trying to change
the world to be a better place, but it’s also really necessary. These are comments, not questions, but I would love to here your thoughts. – If you’re way out, can you raise your hand if you didn’t hear anything or very much? Wow, she said a lot. I can do it, but does anyone else
want to do the summary or in a response summarize what she said? Alright, how about I try, and then if I leave something unsaid? So, I’ll start with the
second part ’cause it’s fresh. Essentially, what is the obligation of curators and museums to ask White people to do more work to recognize Whiteness as
a historical construct, as a identity, as a source of power, and that it’s not simply bringing in people of color either
through commission, through Board membership, to be additive to a culture
that is already set in its ways? Is that fair? – That’s okay. – That was good. (audience applauds) So eloquent. – Now, I can’t remember, my brain has just died, so
what’s the first question? – Well, I think the first
question was about empathy. I think they’re intertwined. I think when it comes down to it, White people just have to be a little bit more
emphatic toward to other. That’s basically it. When a White society has been supreme and has had all the power and privilege, you have to extend the hand, basically, or it’s gonna get taken. I mean, I think that’s
happened every now and then. I think it’s also just necessary for people to understand that we’re all human. If your fellow human is not happy, you’re not gonna be happy. – I think that’s right. Those are two rich comments
about racial literacy, raising the racial literacy. It has to be done, and how do we do it, and it works in both directions, both learning about Black
people and brown people, everyone and at the same time, making sure that White
people do the work as well. – Yeah, I was just gonna
say empathy isn’t enough. We can all have empathy for others, but then the responsibility that everyone has then
is to not, I think where, I don’t wanna bring up Open Casket again, but I think where many people have problems was that there wasn’t, you can’t
just have empathy and not understand the consequences
of whatever you represent. Does she have a right
to represent that image? Yes, every artist can
create what he or she is passionate about and wants to portray. I think that’s a role of artists in the 21st century and forever. I think that it can’t stop at empathy
and that literacy. That means talking to other Black and brown people, reading about the history of Emmett Till and what did it mean for his mother to take his image and the power that she had, the agency that she wanted for that image. If one understands that, you have empathy for this, this mother who’s lost her son due to White supremacy, but then now, I need to
understand, well, what happened? What happened to his body? Why haven’t I seen a painting about this? Why haven’t, you know, hwy aren’t, why are there only photographs, primarily? Why haven’t other Black artists, why haven’t Black artists in
general done that kind of work? It’s because it has a particular kind of resonance for our history that will, with a little more
investigation beyond empathy, inform your decision of oh,
maybe that’s not my place. – Well, it’s US history. It’s not just Black history. It’s also White history. (audience applauds) – I saw a hand. Second row, yes? – [Woman] Hi. – Oh, first row, we’ll
do first and then second. Go for it. (speaker’s voice is low) You have to speak up ’cause
you’re just talking to us. They want to hear you to. – Hi, my name is Bumpie, and I’m one of the organizers who spoke with the ICA
about representation and then wrote the letter the the ICA and a public statement about (speaker’s voice is low) that’s active about representation at the institutional level. I want to switch up Khalil’s statement about the literacy about Black history that it’s impossible
for art to do violence. The question of this is who’s illiteracy, and why does this illiteracy
tend to perpetuate this turn that notion
of who is illiterate? Lived experience is just as literate. The idea also is not
about a particular artist and the views that may have. It is that they do have a responsibility, as ICA’s clearly understated that they don’t have any responsibility, especially when they have representation. That when there are communities who are not represented artists and communities that are not institutions, that is what the ICA defines as community in many conversations and at the curator topic of content being representative. When you have community members who are from communities that
suffer this kind of violence and they’re bringing this up, it takes a great deal of energy. Also, the release of power, there’s this weird exchange that happens where you’re giving up power to be recognized at the
institutional level. It is not an easy task to do. It takes, oftentimes,
it takes a lot of work, especially at the institutional level to have anything being done. Yeah, we can talk about empathy. We can talk about this,
that, and the other, that the museum doesn’t make money, but the idea that there are people who are behind the museums
who are still doing this. Why are they doing this? And if they’re doing that, if they’re funding museums, and the community is coming up and they’re dismissing the
communities, ultimately. The communities that are
suffering the effects of this kind of racialized economy, then what is the agenda
of that institution? If they’re really not making any money, there shouldn’t be any problem, you know, apologizing or addressing
it with the members of the community in conversation, correct? I just wanted to whip up that institutional accountability
and responsibility are very, very difficult questions,
but if we see any change, if we have any civil rights, it is because people from
vulnerable communities are standing on the front lines, even as we speak, to do that work. – Yeah, thank you. I completely concur that the next, the next stage of racial justice work across many different communities, not just Black and White,
is an institutional battle. It’s not about the legal
structures of inequality, but it is about the everyday
practice of institutions. Yeah, so, quick anecdote. Went to the National Portrait Museum with my children last spring. We walked in and we
hadn’t been there before, so we were all sort of wide-eyed and excited about what we might see. Essentially, the story was of American history visa vi of
the portrait, Walt Whitman, the first woman lawyer
fighting for suffrage. We eventually ended up
in the Civil War room with Ulysses S. Grant on one side, I believe Robert E. Lee, and there was John Brown off by himself, adjacent to Frederick
Douglass as a statue. What was interesting was that
the docent, who’s a volunteer, had nothing to say about the context of the Civil War. She had many stories to tell about the generals in the
Civil War, their personalities, and the friendships that they
had before the war broke out. There’s one thing about representation, sort of the scale of who’s
on those walls or pedestals. It was another thing
of the absolute erasure of the very stories that are told through those paintings. That’s an example of
institution of no violence because here I am now having to carry the emotional trauma of my children who I have to explain to them why it is that we can have a conversation about the Civil War that is disembodied from racism and the harm
done to Black people. Frederick Douglass just sat there looking out plaintifly at all of us. Second row, yes, pass? Okay. So I think we’re gonna, I’m gonna take a queue from our host. How many more? – [Woman] I think we’re
gonna have to wrap it up. – One more out of fairness? – [Woman] One more, then
a surprise afterwards. – Steve, yes? – [Steve] I just wanna
ask what is violence? Because we’re talking about images and objects that do violence. I don’t know how many people here have been beaten up by
the cops like I have, I know what violence is. I grew up in Detroit. I had the National Guard
standing on my lawn with rifles pointed at my family, so I know what White supremacy is. I know what violence is. I know what paintings are. I’m sort of curious as to what, we’re using this word that
this object has done violence and I’ve very interested,
and sort of desperate, to understand what we mean when we say a painting has done violence. – Well, I remember somebody telling me that I don’t understand why your emotions have to involve in my reality. I mean, again, going back to empathy, I mean, going back to what Nikki said, it’s like yeah, it’s about action. I understand, I can feel, I can imagine you can
also understand seeing your mother’s tears and what
she felt in that prison. Now, that’s real. You can see tears, you can see her scars. To a certain degree, I think society would like to think that this is entertainment. Being a gallerist in a commercial
art world in a gallery, people kind of walk in and they look. It’s a very passive
understanding of what’s going on. When these really harsh subject matters come across, all of a sudden it gets
that much more serious. It’s mental violence, sure, but it’s not, I don’t know, it’s hard to
define, I would say, Steve. – The main thing, I think, it’s emotional. I think that the
discussion that I had a lot with my students in my
classes were the violence that they were describing
was emotional violence in like having to do emotional labor or having this painting, specifically, that we were talking about, half of the class would
say that it was violent to even have this existing because people have to contend
with this subject matter. African-Americans have to
contend with this subject matter in a completely different way
than a White audience does, and that’s a violent type
of resurfacing of a memory. Then there’s the other half of our class that was like well, yes, but. I think there’s the divide. It’s how you decide to define violence. Of course, you’re thinking
about physical violence, also emotional as well. – [Steve] I was just responding that everyone’s talking about violence. I’m not sure what the definition of it is. But we’re talking about it. – I guess in the context of this work, I would say the violence is emotional. It’s pain. – I’ll take the bait. (audience laughs) My specialty is criminal justice. I’ll give you two sort of snippets, or three snippets, quickly. We know that the domination that guards have over prisoners is
not just the physical reminder of the capacity
to terrorize or to punish, but it’s the implicit threat of that that is a form
of low-grade violence. It’s how prisons are built. The science of it itself
is intended to do such. We also know that human
beings have biologically, the capacity to experience
the emotion of another person just by the visual, the shared space, and objects can do that work as well. The obvious thing would be in terms of human being to human being, simply someone crying or
laughing makes you cry or laugh. Objects are analogs approximate to that experience and depending on the
person’s emotional state, can also be a trigger for violence. The last thing is, to me, thinking about taking a knee in the midst of the country’s debate about state violence and the flag
and free speech seems to me that for many White Americans
it is a form of violence to see Black players kneeling in the face of the national anthem. That form of violence, what for them creates is the analog, which is a form of outrage. These are debatable
except the sort of science of how we experience
other people’s emotions and the face of those emotions. There are many people who would define it in that way which is not just about the physical experience
of someone hurting you. – I like your answer. That was good. (audience applauds) – [Monica] Thank you, Khalil
and our panelists tonight. That was really great. (audience applauds) And again, this is the first of, we’re gonna have another
conversation in the spring, also in collaboration
with the Hutchins Center. That will be moderated by Dr. Sarah Lewis. That’ll be in the spring, so I hope you’ll be able to come back. We’ll have many more programs in between. Lastly, we want the
conversation to continue. We do have a reception right behind this. This is gonna go up in a minute. I invite everyone to come down to the stage and continue talking. Thank you. (audience applauds)

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