What can a white Yale professor tell us about the #BlackLivesMatter struggle?
April 04, 2016 at 12:30 am
Though some people might have hoped that it was just a fad, a resurgence of black power and pride has become a way of life for many young adults. As racial tensions grow, our senses are heightened and #BlackLivesMatter is always trending on our mental timeline. As the weather heats up, street-level black expression and protests are sure to increase. But as the war continues, there are little battles being fought behind closed doors. One woman documents the struggles of the black art community in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, and the methods they used to gain recognition and equality in America’s modern art exhibitions.
Last month, Susan Cahan, Yale University associate dean for the Arts at Yale College, released a book detailing the significant absence of black artists and curators in American art museums. Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power explores how black artists and museum professionals powered through discriminating institutions, specifically in New York City.
Mounting Frustration could be viewed with a side-eye. Maybe she understands the struggle, but what could this white Yale professor know about black frustration? As it stands, the book relies heavily on artist interviews and her examination of actual museum documents. Just as Kevin Liptak might cover what’s happening with Black Lives Matter, Cahan is simply an internal museum correspondent. Mounting Frustration is likely a report more relevant than any CNN production.
According to the Art History Publication Initiative, the work of black artists was featured in less than a dozen museum exhibitions prior to 1967 — outside of those on the campuses of HBCUs. While the book explores struggle and growth, it also addresses the obvious disproportion of black art in American museums.
There’s no doubt that the deficit of black art in New York City is directly related to the disparity of black curators, but Cahan explores how elitist museums and institutions deliberately kept it out. Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power reveals how black artists and curators became activists in their own right by working to push out these social injustices.
Aside from simply telling a story, Cahan spent five years working as a senior curator and arts program director for the Collection of Eileen and Peter Norton and Peter Norton Family Foundation. There, she assisted the Nortons in their mission to support emerging black artists. She has also done more written work and service related to social inequalities in the art community.