We need an anti-racist, transfeminist and intersectional museum, 2020
This project evolved from This is weird without you, a series of posters, made in dialogue with latinx, women and queer owned local businesses in the Mission, that were printed at home and wheatpasted in their boarded up storefronts at the beginning of shelter-in-place. The project intended to have a poetic energy in public space recognizing the fact that we are all interconnected and we need each other’s support now more than ever. The iteration for this project was made with Juan Carlos Rodriguez Rivera.
Eungie Joo (Curator of Contemporary Art) and Erin O’Toole (Baker Street Foundation Associate Curator of Photography) reached out about continuing the This is Weird Without You project in the boarded up entrance of the museum. The energy in the country had drastically changed both with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the national uprisings against police brutality. As our conversation with the curators started, the museum had just censored Taylor Brandon, a former black employee on social media and had announced the second wave of layoffs. With all of these in mind, the messages moved from having a poetic energy to joining and honoring the conversations and efforts currently being done by different groups around the country including: Art Workers for Black Lives, Philly Arts for Black Lives, Open Letter from Boston Arts and Cultural Workers in Demand of Racial Equity and Social Transformation and locally by No Neutral Alliance, as well as, BIPOC artists and art workers that have pushed and dedicated their careers for radical change in art institutions for decades. The reception of the piece was complex and we are grasping how it was received. We apologize, we intended to honor and echo their local efforts, and not take away from them. We are currently figuring out how to mend the conflict that arose from the artwork in thoughtful and genuine ways that lead us to a meaningful resolution.
The museum is in a crucial moment, we knew there was potential to use the resources and space of the institution to include strong, clear and direct messages without our words being edited down. We wanted to create a visual artwork in public space that materialized the energy into a documentation of the times, right in front of the entrance of the museum where the piece engages the public directly. For us, art and design are tools that can be used to dismantle, question and challenge the institutions that serve us. We Need an Anti-Racist, Transfeminist and Intersectional Museum (2020) was developed in conversation with other local artists, mentors, cultural workers, educators, and activists who are dedicated to implementing systemic change within art and cultural institutions in the Bay Area and beyond. While the project was commissioned by Eungie Joo and Erin O’Toole, It is disheartening that the commission aspect of it has taken away from the messaging, when we are all advocating for fair and equitable labor practices for artists and art workers, particularly in the midst of an economic crisis that is affecting folks in myriad of ways.
What white supremacy wants us to do and has historically done, is to put BIPOC folks against each other to distract and maintain their power. To quote Toni Morrison’s speech "A Humanist View" (1975) "It’s important, therefore, to know who the real enemy is, and to know the function, the very serious function of racism, which is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary." We have a common goal which is to destroy white supremacy and commit to ongoing anti-racist work. Multiple efforts are happening simultaneously both visible and invisible, which is why we believe in a plurality of approaches and various points of entry to destroying white supremacy within art and cultural institutions.
We think it is important to see the project as an artwork that utilizes public space to engage in institutional critique and documents the moment we are currently in. The museum is being called to truly engage in urgent and ongoing anti-racist work, which made this a historical moment to collaborate in a non-hierarchical way with Eungie Joo the only POC curator in a leadership position in the museum and her long dedication to the work that she’s been doing for more than 20 years to uplift and center international artists and to reimagine the museum as a place to interrogate, present and record contemporary art practices. We wanted to work with her as an accomplice within the institution to continue to push for systemic changes.
SFMOMA like many institutions that serve us uphold white supremacy and continuously exploit Black and Brown folks. Part of what the project wants is to further push for real systemic change. The site specificity of the piece aims to push both from within, as the internal shifting that must take place, as well as, the changes that need to happen externally in our communities and society. The messages of the posters, We need a museum that destroys white supremacy / We want Black, Indigenous and People of Color in leadership positions / We want Trans*, queers and non-binary folks leading the way / We need an anti-racist, transfeminist and intersectional museum, are just the very beginning of the ongoing, yet necessary, changes that art and cultural institutions, not only SFMOMA must undertake.