Published on January 13th, 2016 | by Editorial Staff


The growing response to the exclusion of Black artists in Art AIDS America

On Thursday, December 17, the Tacoma Action Collective, artist and curator Christopher Paul Jordan, and many other artists and activists protested at the Tacoma Art Museum.

Their protest highlighted the exclusion of Black artists in the Museum’s significant new exhibition Art AIDS America. The group demands that the Tacoma Art Museum apologize and revisit the artist roster, finding a way to include more work from Black artists.

Protesters at the Die In at Tacoma Art Museum

Protesters at the Die In at Tacoma Art Museum

This exhibit is the result of nearly a decade of work by Tacoma Art Museum curator Rock Hushka and Dr. Jonathan D. Katz. Though 107 artists are featured, only four of them are Black identified.

Since Chris Jordan’s interview with curator Rock Hushka, the response to this issue continues to grow. Here, we will track articles and posts so we can continue to encourage the discussion and move toward change.  The updates are shared in order of most recent first. Not familiar? Start at the bottom and work your way up for full coverage and information.

January 12, 2016

On, they featured the article Die-Ins Take Place After Near Exclusion of Black Artists in National Art Aids America Exhibit by Erin White.

“Art AIDS America travels to Kennesaw State University in Atlanta (Feb. 20 – May 22) TAC[Tacoma Action Collective] activists encourage you to come out and help keep AAA, its curators and institutions honest. ‘Saying that you’re going to get more Black artists is good and well,’ the collective says ‘but building that engagement on the ground takes a complete reconstruction of trust. They’re even still being stubborn with programming so we need the public to help us hold them accountable.’ AAA will also be in Chicago and The Bronx.”

Read the full article here.

January 6, 2016 published an update on Tacoma Action Collective’s meeting with Tacoma Art Museum following the protest.

“The collective told, ‘In response to our campaign, Derek Jackson, one of the few Black artists in the show said, ‘I’m speechless. This is a testimony to the strength of collective action… HIV / AIDS disproportionately affects black folks and yet our voices were erased on every level of the planning and presentation of this show. I’m so tired of being an accessory / novelty / token – something to add a little ‘spice’. For the first time in a long while, I feel less alone.'”

Read the full post here.

January 4, 2016

On, writer Erin Langner thoughtfully examines work featured in Art AIDS America and addresses the disparity of representation in her article Unveiling the Resonant Context: Art AIDS America at the Tacoma Art Museum.

“In Glenn Ligon’s painting Untitled (I Am An Invisible Man), fading words introduce new meaning to Ralph Ellison’s text from Invisible Man. Those words become even more resonant when they are considered in the context of the disproportionate number of African-Americans whose existence was taken by AIDS. As one of only four black artists included in Art AIDS America, compared against the statistic of African-Americans representing 41% of people living with HIV in 2011, the disparity is undeniable, as protesters exposed through a recent “die-in” at the museum.

“If Art AIDS America had only one takeaway, it would be art’s power to resound when it is understood within the greater context of history.  To that end, Art AIDS America also embodies the way voices continue to be left out of such discussions. As compelling as the exhibit’s paintings were, knowing relevant voices were excluded means the exhibit’s complete story remains untold. In this context, Deborah Kass’s painting Still Here took on another layer; AIDS itself persists, but the barriers for those living with the disease to tell their stories remain, too. As Art AIDS America moves on to its other venues, in Georgia and New York, the opportunity remains to follow the call to action issued by the artists in the show and seek the perspectives of those still not here.”

Read the full article here.

January 1, 2016

After the publication of his story on Hyperallergic, Ted Kerr’s interview with Tacoma Action Collective is published on The New Inquiry. The interview shares the how and why of the #DieInAtTAM protest.

TK: It’s come to light that the writer and activist Kenyon Farrow was asked to consult on the exhibition years ago. He had suggested the curators look into House and Ball culture, the work of Marlon Riggs, and many other ideas, but that did not figure prominently in the exhibition. What was your reaction when you learned about this?

TAC: It’s both disheartening and infuriating. To know that the curators had the opportunity to be inclusive, but chose not to, hurts. Prior to the interview [with Hushka], we did know that he had consulted with a group of Black artists in Seattle about this exhibit, but hearing that other Black voices were heard and ignored was very disappointing.

Kenyon also talks about the Basquiat piece which was pulled from the show and how he fought to defend it. It’s shocking to see that even as Basquiat, even as a legend, you’re still expendable in their eyes. This is why we discuss this as exclusion. At every stage in the development of this show, Black perspectives were marginal, disregarded, and moved to the sidelines. When we started our investigation and began to realize what would have been on these walls if Black voices were respected in the curation it became clear that piece by piece our history is being stolen from us. That is something we have to abolish. Now many artists from the roster and consultants on the project have reached out to us and shared their experiences. Some don’t feel ready yet to speak publicly but there’s a frightening pattern here and we have to end it now.

Read the full interview here.

December 31, 2015

Black Art In America reposted Tacoma Action Collective’s press release sharing their experience meeting with Tacoma Art Museum’s staff and board. Read the statement here.

December 31, 2015

POZ Magazine, award-winning print and online brand for people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, also shared the story of the Die in at TAM.

“When the Art AIDS America traveling exhibit opened in October at the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM) in Washington, the show’s two curators expected it to be controversial. Turns out they were right, though not for reasons many predicted.

“It hasn’t been the show’s religious or sexual content that has caused the biggest stir. Instead, it is this: Out of about 107 artists in the exhibit, only four are black.

“This lack of representation has led to protests and die-ins, including the social media campaigns #StopErasingBlackPeople and #DieInAtTAM.”

Read more here.

December 31, 2015

International art website Hyperallergic shared the story of the Die In at TAM, titled “A History of Erasing Black Artists and Bodies from the AIDS Conversation.” Wrote Ted Kerr:

“Such an exhibition is necessary because, to many, the art world has largely being silent about the epidemic, both in the past and in the present. Katz writes, “We must attend not to the macro effects of AIDS, but to the micro ones, most centrally to the way it subtly redrew the parameters of art critical discourse, and thus also redrew artist’ own strategic thinking as they sought to represent their response to AIDS.”

“It’s here one would argue — at the site of the mighty micro-aggression of exclusion — that the curators and the protestors find themselves in dispute. For Katz and Hushka, Art AIDS America is working to end the silence around AIDS in the art world. For the protestors, the exhibition is in fact adding to it.”

The story goes in deep and addresses much of the nuance and history from a curatorial perspective:

“With Art AIDS America, one can feel the care Katz has for the artists he is working with. He is in awe of what they have accomplished, and he wants to share their strategies with the world. But he could have and should have anticipated the protests: as the exhibit itself emphasizes, when you silence a people, they will rise up and make demands of the future. By not including black artists in a meaningful way, Katz and Hushka failed not only to be aware of the politics of our time, but also to make an ally of their audiences. Any show that takes on the canon must first contend with the context within which that canon exists.”

Read the full article here.

December 30, 3015

Members of the Tacoma Action Collective met with Tacoma Art Museum staff and board members. They shared the experience in a recent press release that outlines the commitment the Tacoma Art Museum has made to change. These promises include:

Committing “to working with the other venues that will be showing Art AIDS America, to include more Black artists;” “continuing the discussion of the HIV/AIDS epidemic beyond when Art AIDS America closes;” “investing money and time in staff-wide diversity trainings;” and “ongoing dialogues and actions to include Black people at every level” of the organization.

The Tacoma Action Collective committed to “holding the Tacoma Art Museum accountable for their commitments and to engaging with them as a resource.” Read the full press release here.

December 30, 2015

The Tacoma Weekly followed up with coverage of the December 17 protest:

“Since the epidemic first erupted within the Gay community, it was predominantly gay artists that were the first to have to confront and grapple with the issues involved. Since that time, the epidemic has spread to other demographic groups and artist from those groups now add their expressive power to the fight. But that is beyond the narrow scope that the current show was seeking to address. It is meant to be an art historical examination of the way in which American art was redirected by the work of artists that were dealing with the sudden and strange appearance of what at the time was an unknown and incurable disease.

“The thesis of the show, however, is so erudite that visitors can be forgiven for taking it to be about the AIDS epidemic in general. The inclusion of work that dates beyond the specific time period in question does not help matters. Because the show does not stick strictly to, say, the first decade of the epidemic, it becomes less focused and the accusation that more African American art should have been included seems all the more valid.”

Read the full article by Dave R. Davison here.

December 22,2015

Jen Graves of The Stranger followed up her initial response to the #DieInAtTam with this in-depth piece, “The Protest over the Lack of Black Artists at Art AIDS America goes National.”

“Two of the four Black artists included in the exhibition—Kia La Beija and Kalup Linzy—issued statements on Facebook about their experiences with Art AIDS America. So did behind-the-scenes exhibition consultant Kenyon Farrow, an AIDS activist recruited to be on an organizing team for the show.”

More artists have joined in the conversation and Jen Graves connected with them:

“I recommend checking out an interesting conversation thread on Farrow’s post, which includes links to the artists he recommended TAM consider, and a discussion of how art works are considered to pertain to a theme, or fit into a canon. Some of those artists include Rashaad Newsome, Noelle Lorraine Williams, Tiona McClodden, Brandon Coley Cox, and Duron Jackson.

Protesters placed large stickers stating "stop erasing black people" on the doors of the Tacoma Art Museum.

Protesters placed large stickers stating “stop erasing black people” on the doors of the Tacoma Art Museum.

“As for Jordan, the Tacoma artist, this all began when he asked a question about why there weren’t more Black artists in the exhibition during a panel discussion at the museum. Curator Hushka wasn’t present, but the panelists told Jordan he should ask Hushka, and later, Hushka contacted Jordan and asked Jordan to talk. The conversation was even more “callous” and “explicit” than Jordan had expected, he said, which is why he had hesitated to contact Hushka himself, preferring to work with others on organizing the protests.”

Read the full story here.

December 21, 2015

Rosemary Ponnekanti of The News Tribune followed up with Chris and and Museum staff. Tacoma Art Museum director Stephanie Stebich shared:

“‘Could we have added more artists of color? Yes,’ added Stephanie Stebich, who is also white. But, she said, ‘it’s not possible to adjust the exhibit at this late stage. An exhibit is like a book, it’s fixed.”‘

Read the full article here.

December 20, 2015

Filthy Dreams founder and author Emily Colucci pulled together a thoughtful response:

“While I rarely post on other writer’s interviews or articles on Filthy Dreams, I believe that Jordan and Bailey’s interview is, from their end, masterful while revealing the insidiousness of institutional racism in museums and other art institutions. I also believe that curators and museum administrators need to be taken to task for their exhibitions, particularly shows that perpetuate the already frequent silences around the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic. I hope by posting it on Filthy Dreams I can get more readers to look at the interview, which opens an essential discussion about race, representation, art and activism.

“Approaching Hushka with their personal reactions to the–all but–erasure of Black artists contributions to the intersection of AIDS and American art, Jordan and Bailey raise significant issues from the exclusion of Black artists in the exhibition itself to the lack of Black staff at the museum.”

Read her full round up here.

December 19, 2015

Artist Kia Labeija, who is featured in the exhibit, shared an official statement in response to Art AIDS America’s lack of black identified artists. Below are a few quotes from her statement.

“The show made me feel uncomfortable and quite sad. Even the dynamic of the shows patrons was severely disproportioned with those living positive.”

“At the end of the day what I understood in that moment is that this privilege will continue to kill us. If not by AIDS – by being silenced, by guns, by assumption, and by mere hatred. My skin is brown, I am a reflection of the earth and of GOD. I dedicate my portrait series in honor of all black and brown womyn living with HIV, living with AIDS, and the memory of those womyn who are not here. I speak your name.”

“I am honored to show work on a platform as big as this, but at what extent made my work the ONLY piece to represent one of the largest groups of people being infected with the virus? How much longer will we be erased from history? Why do we always have to ‘Wait for the next one’. I am in full support of all Art AIDS America Protests! “

Read her full response in support of Tacoma Action Collective’s protest here.

December 18, 2015

Protesters stage a die-in at the Tacoma Art Museum.

Protesters stage a die-in at the Tacoma Art Museum.

Christopher Jordan shared a disclaimer on his own Facebook page where he shared his interview:

“It doesn’t matter what Rock thinks and believes as an individual. The real issue is the culture of white silence and disinterest in Black humanity that permeates TAM as well as the silence permeating our entire city in not challenging this. Another TAM curator told me that they knew the representations may be an issue but figured that Rock had his own rationale and they wanted to stay out of it. These are the behaviors which allow for a project like Art AIDS America to develop over the course of 10 years, to be sponsored, supported celebrated and not once consider that Black voices might need to be emphasized.”

Read the full post here. Parts of this disclaimer are now included in the original interview.

December 18, 2015

Jen Graves of The Stranger provides an initial response to Chris Jordan’s interview and the protest with promises to continue to follow the story:

“I’m going to ask Jordan, Bailey, Hushka, and East Coast-based co-curator Jonathan Katz whether they want to add more reflections to the discussion.

“But there are things to say right now as well.

“First of all, the phrase “messy masterpiece” was in the headline attached to my glowing review of the exhibition. I don’t write the headlines, and I would not choose to use “masterpiece,” but it is undeniable that I called the exhibition “an epic and a national treasure.”

“It is also undeniable that I did not mention the fact that HIV/AIDS has hugely disproportionately hurt the Black community, and yet that there are only four Black artists in the exhibition.

“I regret that. I regret not pointing out the insight, asking why and how it happened, and considering the challenges faced by artists and activists and curators and institutions when it comes to representation, especially here, where an exhibition that attempted to represent one underrepresented group of human beings ended up underrepresenting another group of human beings. How could this have gone differently along the way?”

Read the full post here.

December 17, 2015

The Tacoma Action Collective released a statement regarding the erasure of Black perspectives is the Tacoma Art Museum’s new exhibit Art AIDS America.

“Die In Protest Tonight (7pm) [December 17, 2015] at Tacoma Art Museum demanding:

– more Black staff at all levels of leadership within Tacoma Art Museum.

– staff/board retraining in Undoing Institutional Racism (UIR) at all levels of leadership among Art Museum personnel.

– that the artist Roster for Art AIDS America be changed to include greater representation of Black Artists before the show tours nationally in 2016″

Read the full press release here.


See anything we missed? Let us know in the comments and we’ll get it up to date.

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About the Author

Editorial Staff

Updates and perspectives from the Post Defiance leadership team.

5 Responses to The growing response to the exclusion of Black artists in Art AIDS America

  1. RR Anderson says:

    my eyewitness instagrams are pretty cool too yo

  2. RHill says:

    I appreciate the updates, but why are you allowing for the original post to be amended and re-edited? Stand by the personal attack vibe of your original piece, or write additional posts, rather than adding and reshaping. The real problem here is a lack of ALL institutions putting effort behind filling in history’s blind spots in their collections, not merely a lack of representation in one show.

  3. D says:

    Nobody other than people who blindly take the side of every complaint made by a black person will ever take this issue seriously.

  4. Pingback: Three Georgia Politicians Think A Porta-Potty Would Be Better Than Art AIDS America

  5. Pingback: New Narrative - City Arts Magazine

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