Curator Kimberly Drew on Black Art, Social Media, and Taking Selfies in Museums
Kimberly Drew (a.k.a. @MuseumMammy) doesn't just run the Metropolitan Museum of Art's social media—she's also the woman behind the cult Tumblr, Black Contemporary Art, and a champion of artists.
Photo by Mia Fermindoza
For someone who only turned 26 in August, Kimberly Drew's touch on both creation and curation is strongly felt. The New York-based arts curator (a.k.a. @MuseumMammy) started off by sharing the work of contemporary black artists through social media to her over 300,000 followers. She is now working to expand the reach of brick and mortar museums online.
Besides being the social media manager for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Drew has just successfully conducted an Instagram takeover of the White House's account for the South by South Lawn festival, a cultural event hosted by the Obama administration this year. She has also recently launched an incubator for black artists, which provides a physical space for the creation and exposure of their work.
Drew bridges the gap between underrepresented artistic voices and museum spaces through social media. She got started curating the work of black artists online when she was still in college. When she couldn't find blogs that could satisfy her curiosity about artists of color, she made her own. Black Contemporary Art, launched in 2011, began as a "private gesture," Drew tells Broadly, but it attracted followers quickly. Since then, she's shared the work of visual artists Marvin Luvualu Antonio and Yetunde Olagbaju as well as musicians like Noname and novelists like Clint Smith.
"I realized there was a real need [for this resource]. It felt so good to do," she said. Black Contemporary Art now has over 200,000 active followers.
After she started Black Contemporary Art, Drew began to use the handle @MuseumMammy on Twitter and Instagram. The name has become a key part of her online personality, continuing to poke needles into an age-old stereotype about black female domesticity. Drew says the conversation around the term is compelling, if not uncomfortable.
"What does it mean to be a mammy? A maven?" she said. "Years later, I'm still thrilled by the interrogation."
We sat down with Drew to discuss black art, the role of curation, and what representation looks like from her perspective.
BROADLY: You keep your blog fully stocked all the time with new pieces and work. It's not just classical black art, if that's a thing. How do you learn about new black artists?
Kimberly Drew: When I first started the blog, I didn't know many artists. A week or two into it I put out a call on Tumblr because it's one of those communities where you can be like, "I need help," and they'll be like, "I'm here for you!" I was just like, "Does anyone else want to edit this with me?"
From the start there were other people who were working on it so it was a very collaborative process. Luckily those people were also artists. One thing that's very important to understand is no one knows artists like artists do. So much of my learning has been from creatives talking about people who are in the programs they're doing or who are also from their home towns. So it has a very networky feel on this social network, not to be too cheesy.
Your work is definitely getting recognized. What was it like being invited by the White House to do an Instagram takeover?
I got invited by the White House's social media team which was obscenely amazing. It was a Friday afternoon. I was sitting at work and I was just in a weird mood and then I got an email that said, "Hello from the White House," and I was just like, "What?"
It was all done through like text messages and I felt like a Secret Service agent but not really because those people had guns. Instagram is one of my favorite platforms. It was really cool to be activating on the account of the fucking White House!
What do you think the role of social media is in either preserving or encouraging art? Or anything in between?
One thing that's really important to me that I'm trying to do in my current role at the Met is try to explain to people that social media, yes it's new, as a medium is as old as museums. Especially within the arts. The thought that goes into the production of each message should be treated with the same gravity as a press release. The timeline is different but the urgency is there. The need to communicate clearly is there.
Social media for me is an opportunity to trust. To trust your audience. To trust that what you're doing is important. It's like this double gesture.
I think there's nothing wrong with a museum selfie—it's an opportunity to share an experience.
A lot of times there's this conversation around people mediating the art experience through technology. People are thinking critically about how to innovate in those worlds. And there's also people who are very critical of it. I think there's nothing wrong with a museum selfie—it's an opportunity to share an experience. To present the possibility of being in these spaces. Especially when you consider crossing lines of race, class, and gender.
I don't take for granted my ability to move freely through these spaces. I want to show people that it's something that I've earned. And not necessarily from this community. It's something that I've pushed myself into where now I can feel comfortable. Everything I do I feel like I'm pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I want other people to feel inspired to do that. To understand taking a risk on those experiences.
Do you think the internet is a safe space for black artists to share their work and create?
I don't think the internet is a safe space for anyone. I think the idea of safe space is a myth. The web is an opportunity but can also be a hard place to be for people of all races, class, and cultures.
How exactly do you feel like you fit into this space? Museums have notoriously been a predominantly white space with the White Cube narrative [the school of thought that art is best presented in a sterile, white-walled environment] bleaching out artists of color almost inherently. How does your work combat that?
My narrative is very odd. Growing up, arts always had a seat at the table. I come from a family with artists in it so it has always been part of the ecosystem of my life.
My first thoughts about creativity and art were founded in blackness. When I see a White Cube I just see it as a space for possibility. It's very easy to assume everyone feels oppressed in these spaces and that's just not true. But that doesn't mean there's not room to grow. For me, I'm trying to think about how I can push those narratives forward so I can make more narratives possible. The White Cube narrative exists but there's a narrative of creation and revolution that can exist beside it.
There's so much history to know that we don't have access to just yet. I'm more interested in dedicating my time to complicating those narratives than interrogating them.