Biennale juror rules on Arts Council's decision to cancel the exhibition

This letter is addressed to the Northampton Arts Council, following their cancellation of this year’s Biennale at a meeting where I was t...



This letter is addressed to the Northampton Arts Council, following their cancellation of this year’s Biennale at a meeting where I was the victim of racial stereotypes.

A speaker told the board that I, an Asian American, am white, and hinted that my two years of graduate school at Yale University had something to do with it (the speaker himself graduated from a top US university, but apparently the board doesn’t think he’s been transformed in the same way). The board then endorsed the speaker’s views, which suggest the offensive stereotype of Asians as a “model minority,” a high performing ethnic group in the service of whiteness.

As I make this letter public, I want the board to respond to it publicly as well.

To the members of the Northampton Arts Council,

I am one of the three jurors you invited to select works for the visual arts portion of this year’s Biennale.

I would first like to stress that the objections raised by Indigenous artists at the Northampton Arts Council meeting about the Biennale, and the questions raised as to whether a work causes damage, are not only important but crucial objections and questions, and they should be expressed and heard. It’s a very good thing the board has recognized that. The issue of representation is a controversial and passionate issue, and what is happening in Northampton reflects a nationwide public debate.

I am not writing to answer questions about the artwork, but rather to explain how advice, tacitly or verbally, has asserted an individual’s offensive language with racist implications about me, which he did so while explaining his critique of the Biennale jury process, in an Arts Council meeting on Tuesday, September 28.

This person used a discussion of serious concerns about fairness and representation to insult my critical judgment on the basis of my race and education, to insult the judgment of a second juror who is a white male, and to make the work of a third juror, an invisible Latina woman.

I first learned that the jury selection process had raised concerns when the board issued the first of two official statements announcing the cancellation of the Biennale. I had no prior knowledge that two people had written a letter and raised concerns to the board about one of the selected works, nor that a meeting was scheduled to discuss the selection process and the jury committee, nor that there would be a vote to cancel the show.

After one of the individuals, Jason Montgomery, called the Arts Council meeting last week and asked the council to cancel the Biennale, the council discussed several options for action until a Fairness Committee board member reminded board that “Jason’s original request was for a full cancellation” and suggested that the board discussion “bring that back to Jason a little bit.”

The board voted in favor of the cancellation about an hour later. The President concluded the meeting shortly after, but not before saying “I’m glad the Biennale is canceled” and reminding the Board to notify the NAC’s restoration partners and the 60 artists and poets who were scheduled to attend. the Biennale.

Not a single member of the council suggested involving the jurors in the conversation or even informing them of their decision, although the selection process and jury committee were doomed after being discussed at length as a group. and individually.

While criticizing the racial makeup of the jury made up mostly of women of color, Montgomery said, “When you select whites, when you choose whites, when you make them make the decisions, you end up with whites. ”

To begin with, in this context, one cannot ignore the fact that two-thirds of the jury that he denounces are women of color. I would like the board to recognize this basic nonsense.

You might be wondering if this individual just wasn’t aware of the diversity of the jury, but then he said, “Let’s stop pretending that we don’t know who’s on the jury,” as if he was. about to tell a devastating truth, then said the jury includes an “Asian woman with an MFA from Yale.” The board chair, perhaps acknowledging that a discussion of fairness and representation in the selection process had escalated into personal attacks, read the board’s guidelines on communication to her at a board meeting of administration.

I am a woman and I studied at Yale. I am Asian-American. This person refers to me only as an “Asian woman with a Yale MFA”, and at no time is my name mentioned. These two tactics erased my identity and replaced it with a stereotype. The innuendo is that I filled the model myth of the minority and served in the interest of whiteness. Acknowledging – without the dehumanizing stereotype – that two-thirds of the jury are artists of color would not help its accusation that the committee represented the “white industrial art complex”, but it chose to replace fact with fiction. that the jury was white.

Regardless of the undeniable lie, the council adopted some of its language almost verbatim for a public statement, as if its opinions on the jury were not to open up debate, but to close it. You, the council, have done this without consulting the jurors – without consulting the women of color whose critical faculties have been entirely dismissed and considered “white.”

When Montgomery moved beyond significant criticism of the commonly used anonymous selection process and began to criticize jurors personally without regard to the truth, the board failed to acknowledge that his personal criticism of individual jurors revealed biases about the matter. race, and that these prejudices are not representative. of the marginalized group with legitimate concerns. The board thus confirmed this person’s criticism of the jury’s involvement in the selection process.

Only one board member corrected this individual and said the committee was not entirely white, and no other board member, not those on the equity committee or for that matter, confirmed this, allowing him to ‘interrupt several times and speak over this woman.

It is also important to point out that Montgomery emphasizes that I am Asian instead of Asian-American, because he insists on his accusation that I do not represent the local art community, that I am a foreigner, a foreigner. This involvement is important because he uses it to support his claim that “The people you have selected to make these decisions do not represent this community. They don’t represent this community of artists, they don’t represent this community of people.

Unfortunately, Asian Americans are repeatedly told that we are not really a part of American culture; the individual’s implication that an “Asian woman” does not represent the community where she lived and worked for a decade is just another iteration of something terrible and terribly familiar.

Montgomery hinted that attending Yale also makes me inadequate as a juror for this community event – maybe there is an education cap the speaker intends to put on Asians or on women. . I do not know. But he insisted that an “Asian woman with a Yale MFA” does not “represent this community,” and subsequently a board member of the equity committee said, “I fully support Jason 100% comments “.

The United States has seen a rise in hatred against Asian Americans, and I felt I had to speak out against the council’s apparent acceptance of something that is in fact unacceptable. It is extremely upsetting that a discussion of the misrepresentation of marginalized people includes offensive opinions directed at another marginalized group in a board meeting, and the board has allowed it.

If you are feeling angry, confused, or disappointed with what I am reminding you of, then I invite you to “sit down with your unease” and think. I ask you to respect my need to respond to a public comment where my voice has been silenced, and to correct some falsehoods that this person shared and that the members of the board asserted before deciding to cancel the Biennale.

I am exhausted from the work this council was unwilling to do before voting on a contentious issue. You should have spoken to jurors when accusations of bias were laid before you made a statement; you should have considered that, yes, the council needs to do more to represent the community and respect indigenous voices, and also yes, it can and should be done without erasing the work of women of color.

This letter is addressed to you, members of the board of directors, because this board can no longer accept rhetoric that changes the facts, undermines the just causes of representation and anti-racism and, subsequently, influences important decisions that require careful thought, time and work. .

At the very least, you should reconsider your answer. I took the role of juror seriously and volunteered my time, energy and work because of my confidence in the NBOD and its mission statement to develop, promote and present activities and arts programs in the community of Northampton, to stimulate public awareness and support for the arts. The Northampton culture is known to promote the general principles of tolerance. This is part of what is so heartbreaking about the actions of the council.

The board’s commitment to social justice is important and necessary and, for it to truly work, must be accompanied by deliberation and care. Over the past week, I’m sorry to say there were insufficient amounts of both. Still, I believe in the potential of this advice. The community needs you, and I know you can meet that need.

Jessica Tam is an artist and was a jury member for this year’s Northampton Arts Council Biennale.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Biennale juror rules on Arts Council's decision to cancel the exhibition
Biennale juror rules on Arts Council's decision to cancel the exhibition
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