by Emily Trace
by Kalya Ramu
Museum of African Diaspora:
“In San Francisco, our artists and art institutions are expected to stand up and speak out towards injustice. San Francisco artists are simultaneously activists and contribute to the Bay Area’s extensive and progressive history of equity for all.”
Since the pandemic began, the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) has stacked its online programming calendar with film clubs, book clubs, workshops, forums, an open mic night, family art events, and discussions with authors. In a variety of ways, Executive Director Monetta White has been growing the reach of MoAD in the Bay Area’s arts and culture landscape since 2019. Including establishing a new studio residency program in partnership with San Francisco Art Institute, expanding the Emerging Artist Program, and forging a new partnership with the African American Arts and Cultural Complex (AAACC). She’s also served as Vice President for the City of San Francisco’s Small Business Commission and continues to sit on multiple non-profit boards and advisory boards.
With $200 million reallocated from law enforcement set to be reinvested in historically underrepresented communities and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art selling off a Rothko for $50 million in order to acquire more works by female artists, artists of colour and LGBTQ+ artists, there’s something of a sea change occurring at the intersection of civic policy and culture in San Francisco. This is epitomized by MoAD, which White describes as a hub of thought, art, and dialogues that offers an inherently politicized art viewing experience.
Five Questions with Monetta White
Your favourite thing about SF’s arts & culture scene?
In San Francisco, artists are simultaneously activists.
Upcoming online event you want to see a lot of turn-out for?
Henry Louis Gates Jr. on April 9th in conversation with Sarah Ladipo Manyika.
What’s been your top comfort food in 2020?
My go-to has probably been pizza.
Best thing about MoAD?
We strive to be a hub of thought, art, and dialogues within the global Black art communities.
One book you'd recommend from the museum's bookshop?
The Three Mothers by Anna Malaika Tubbs
Do you see online programming continuing to have a role in reaching out to communities outside SF?
What a great question, because obviously COVID took us by surprise and we had to end up doing online programming. And what we learned was that we had this extension to our audience. Our online programs have extended our global audience significantly, so we are absolutely going to continue that. MoAD’s website launched seven years ago and has been the open door to visitors around the world and around the clock.
MoAD’s audience has increased more than 300% since we began to shelter-in-place with webpages staying open 16% longer than the previous average. In the first two weeks of June 2020, visitors joined our online programming from countries including Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Senegal, Ghana, France, Italy, England, Jamaica, even Japan, and throughout the United States. So we really believe that online digital programming is a way to touch our global community. We are in the process of reimagining our website so make the digital experience even more accessible to our virtual visitors.
Given that there is such an overrepresentation of the African diaspora in American prisons, what is your assessment of how sharing their artwork reminds us of their humanity?
Well, Meet Us Quickly: Painting for Justice from Prison is a digital exhibition of the work of twelve artists incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison. We gave a platform for each participant to include accompanying statements written by the artist, allowing these men to speak for themselves to share their vision and perspectives in their own words.
The twenty-one works of the exhibition included linocut prints, acrylic paintings, ink drawings on paper and collages, showing their eclectic influences and the ways these artists maintain significant artistic practices spanning diverse techniques and subjects. It was really important for us to be able to exhibit and show that; for me personally, sharing their artwork was an honour, and we hope that people take a second to reflect on the unfortunate circumstances of these incarcerated artists while meditating on their art and statements.
Can you speak to why it’s so important to maintain space in MoAD for LGBTQ+ artists and their history?
Black lives can’t matter if all Black lives don’t matter, which inherently includes the LGBTQ+ communities. We also must particularly support and protect Black trans women who disproportionately experience violence and oppression. We strive to think through the ways we can create space for LGBTQ+ individuals and artists in our community. An example is Sam Vernon’s Impasse of Desires, coming to MoAD this summer, which addresses just that. It’s about the ways in which there are frictions and failures in representing queer expressions. We look forward to continuing this important work, uplifting the vision and work of LGBTQ+ artists in the future.