THE HARVARD ART MUSEUMS are welcoming back an alum. Makeda Best, who earned her M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University in the Department of History of Art and Architecture, has been tapped to serve as the new curator of photography at Harvard Art Museums. Previously, she was an assistant professor in visual studies at the California College of the Arts (CCA), where specialized in the history of photography. She is also an alum of CCA having earned a B.F.A. and M.F.A. in photography from the California institution.

“Makeda Best is an accomplished scholar and curator, an innovative thinker, and a passionate advocate for teaching with original works of art; we are thrilled to welcome her back to Harvard as the Richard L. Menschel Curator of Photography, a critical role for both the Art Museums and the University,” Martha Tedeschi, director of Harvard Art Museums, said in the announcement. “Makeda’s deep understanding of photography as an art form—and as a social, cultural, and political force—will advance new and challenging ideas to support our teaching and learning mission.”

“Makeda’s deep understanding of photography as an art form—and as a social, cultural, and political force—will advance new and challenging ideas to support our teaching and learning mission.”
— Martha Tedeschi, Director of Harvard Art Museums

A HISTORIAN OF PHOTOGRAPHY, Best is revising a book about Alexander Gardner, the Civil War-era photographer. She has worked at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as an assistant curator and graduate fellow. She is also the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships from institutions. On the education front, in addition to her post at CCA, her teaching experience includes serving as assistant professor in the Department of Art and Architecture at the University of Vermont, where she developed museum-based learning courses in the history of photography and American art. She continues to serve as a chief advisor and writer for Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum, an online multimedia learning platform for middle and high school students, produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting and Annenberg Learner.

Best is a trained photographer. Although she is no longer practicing, the experience informs her work. With a background spanning museums, education, and scholarly contributions to multiple publications, her research has focused on documentary and war photography, the photobook, protest prints, and social reportage.

She is working in the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art at Harvard Art Museums, where she is charged with overseeing the photography collections and acquisitions, and developing exhibitions, public lectures and programming. “What drew me to the job was that this is a teaching museum, and there is a collaborative nature to its curatorial and educational programming. Photographic education is my passion,” Best told the Harvard Gazette.

“What drew me to the job was that this is a teaching museum, and there is a collaborative nature to its curatorial and educational programming. Photographic education is my passion.” — Makeda Best


Harvard Art Museums exterior. | Photo by Peter Vanderwarker, Courtesy Harvard Art Museums

 

HARVARD ART MUSEUMS is composed of three museums, distinguished by the focus of their collections, and four research centers. After an extensive renovation completed in fall 2014, the museums are housed in one building for the first time. Designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, the structure provides 40 percent more gallery space and features distinct identities for each of the three museums.

Curated by Sarah Lewis, “Vision and Justice: The Art of Citizenship,” was recently on view through Jan. 8, at the Harvard Art Museums’s University Teaching Gallery. Presenting 20th and 21st century photography from the museum collection, the exhibition considered the relationship between art, justice, and the African American experience.

“I am excited to return to Harvard and the museums’s vast teaching collections, which offer so many ways to explore the formal and conceptual challenges that photographers have faced and to consider how they’ve negotiated new technologies, processes, social factors, and trends in visual culture over time,” Best said in the announcement. “As a student of these collections myself, I have a unique knowledge of these objects, and I’m interested in what they can teach us about photography as a cultural force as well as about issues like social justice and social reform.” CT

 

TOP IMAGE: Makeda Best. | Photo by Unique Nicole, Courtesy Harvard Art Museums

 

BOOKSHELF
Makeda Best co-edited “Conflict, Identity, and Protest in American Art,” a recent anthology that “explores the powerful relationship between artistic production and cultures of conflict in the United States.”