Art Museums are too White / by Edna Bonhomme

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Several days ago, I did an experiment at the Centre Pompidou art gallery in Paris and walked around their main collection and kept walking until I found a painting by a person of color and/or from the Global South. It took me over 15 minutes to find a piece of modern art work that met this criteria. So I decided that if I wanted to see artworks by people of color, I had to go to an institution that celebrated work the creative contribution of people of color/people from the Global South. So I took a trip to the Institut du Monde Arabe and I mostly prioritized the works of Arab women—with a couple of exceptions.

The dichotomy between what is considered art "vs" decorative/craft work within the Western European canon of art history. One thing that should be interrogated is the physical labor of the unnamed people who make art spaces public to begin with. That is, the painters, the installation folks, the people monitoring the space. Outside of that, art and beauty are ubiquitous in communities of color in ALL aspects of our life, not just in gallery walls. We create art when we make our food, when we dress for the day, when we style our hair, we we put on jewelery. As far as I am concerned, the working class Senegalese womxn* dressed up in their attire in Chateau Rouge have more to tell me about fashion and art then some bland all Black attire European. The attention of creating beauty in all aspects of life is how we should think about art (re)production.

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Art museums should center the works of people of color and the global south on their own right, not merely be segreating them into institutes that bear their area/ethnic identity. The process of seeking out, absorbing, and promoting these works are an indication that I have to do some learning and unlearning to reorient the canons of art and knowledge. I hope these paintings can be a guide for others as well.

We need to decolonize the canon(s) and stop art museums from being too white.

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