Jennifer Kidwell as Donelle Woolford


OVER THE PAST FEW WEEKS, Hyperallergic has published impassioned essays by two Black women expressing their frustration with the racial dynamics of the art world. Both are ensconced in it—one is a public relations rep; the other a performance artist. Their stories are very different, but each became so fed up with the veiled and exploitive ways that race factors in their everyday work that they felt the need to speak out.

“Performance and Para-Fiction: Jennifer Kidwell on Playing Donelle Woolford” by Jennifer Kidwell | Hyperallergic

For years, Joe Scanlan, who is white, has presented himself as Donelle Woolford, a Black female performance artist. He developed her persona and her work and hires Black women to portray her. The conceit has long drawn critical comments in the press and from other artists. The disfavor is directed at Scanlan and doesn’t consider the willing participation of the women, artists who generally go unnamed in the critiques. Performance artists Jennifer Kidwell (pictured above) and Abigail Ramsay play Donelle Woolford. With incredible insight, Kidwell finally gives voice to their perspectives while navigating the complexity of identity politics.

“While it is true that Joe Scanlan would not have gotten into the Biennial if Donelle Woolford weren’t black, it is just as true that Donelle wouldn’t have gotten in, nor would I, if Joe weren’t white. The symbiosis of access and privilege inherent in this relationship is far more complex and provocative than most of the contention that’s hitherto been raised.”
— Jennifer Kidwell, Hyperallergic

“Blacked Out in the Art World” by Anonymous | Hyperallergic
During Art Basel Miami Beach (Dec. 4-7), a black woman who works at a “prominent” public relations agency in New York confides that, “It’s not easy to be a black woman working in the arts.” In the wake of the Mike Brown shooting and Eric Garner choking she is having a hard time reconciling these real world events with the obtuse disposition of her colleagues. She says she and her white co-workers talk about blackness in the arts all the time. It’s their job. But her counterparts fall silent when it comes to the round-the-clock news surrounding police killing unarmed black men. She requests that Hyperallergic publish the essay anonymously out of fear she might “jeopardize her job or professional contacts.”


Both essays are compelling reads, particularly Kidwell’s forthright breakdown of how race is played in the art world. While neither is raising issues unfamiliar to most, their willingness to speak publicly and share their personal perspectives is refreshing. CT


IMAGE: Jennifer Kidwell performs “Dick’s Last Stand” as Donelle Woolford | via The Kitchen.


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