On Wednesday (2/23) the Smithsonian Institution officially began construction on a new museum dedicated to African-American culture and heritage (the National Museum of African American History and Culture), a project that is slated to open in 2015.
This new museum could finally shed light on the marginalized and difficult history of African Americans in the United States. I say ‘could’ because the Smithsonian is notorious for not wanting to ‘rock the boat’ of their federal funding. Unfortunately, they are not afraid of compromising their mission when the purse strings are shaken. The 2010 Hide/Seek exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, for example, came under fire by Republican members of Congress due to David Wojnarowicz’s work, A Fire In My Belly (1987), that featured a crucifix with ants crawling over the body of Christ. The work was made in response to the agony and suffering of Wojnarwicz’s partner who was dying of AIDS. The ensuing controversy snowballed into a fight over the ‘proper’ uses of federal funding (whether or not tax payer money should be used to ‘assault’ religion, according to the complainers) which led to Wojnarowicz’s video being pulled from the exhibit.
In addition, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art offers a shockingly exclusive view of American art as the province of white men.
I do sincerely hope that the new African-American Museum will not shy away from the difficult histories that need to be told, and that they won’t be bullied into self-censorship.
Unfortunately, the building looks too much like a parking deck for my taste.