THE BROOKLYN MUSEUM recently welcomed Ernestine White-Mifetu as Sills Foundation Curator of African Art. White-Mifetu was working as an independent artist and curator when she joined the Brooklyn Museum. She brings two decades of experience to the role.

Previously, she served as director and chief curator of the William Humphreys Art Gallery in Northern Cape, South Africa (2019-20). A historic appointment, she was the first Black person to lead the museum. Established in 1952, William Humphreys Art Gallery is one of three national art museums in South Africa.

Her Brooklyn Museum appointment was announced today, along with Abigail L. Dansiger, who is the museum’s new director of Libraries and Archives. Both officially started at the New York museum on March 1.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Ernestine and Abby to the Brooklyn Museum team. Both dynamic experts in their fields, they are joining the Brooklyn Museum at an incredibly exciting time as we prepare for the building of our new permanent African Art galleries and for the Museum’s two hundredth anniversary,” Brooklyn Museum Director Anne Pasternak said in a statement.

The Brooklyn Museum states that it was one of the first U.S. museums to collect and exhibit African art and describes its collection of African art as one of the largest in the United States, with more than 6,000 works produced over a period of 2,500 years. The mostly historic as well as contemporary works represent more than 100 African cultures, primarily sub-Saharan.

“I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity to showcase the vast and varied ways in which African creatives have, through time, expressed their personal, local, and global lived realities.” — Ernestine White-Mifetu

White-Mifetu begins her tenure at an active time in the department. The museum is designing new permanent galleries to showcase its Arts of Africa collection. She will lead the reinstallation, develop related programming and initiatives, oversee new acquisitions, and add key works to traveling exhibitions, with the goal of bringing the collection “to life by telling new stories and building connections for today’s audiences and the local Brooklyn community.”

In prior positions, White-Mifetu was curator of contemporary paintings and sculpture at the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town (2014-19) and deputy chairperson of the Artistic Committee for South Africa’s National Arts Festival (NAF). Currently, she serves on the board of the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM), based in Barcelona, Spain.

White-Mifetu earned an MFA in fine art and a BA, with honors specializing in curatorship, from the University of Cape Town in South Africa. She also holds a BA in fine art from Purchase College, State University of New York and a master printer certification from the Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, N.M.

“I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity to showcase the vast and varied ways in which African creatives have, through time, expressed their personal, local, and global lived realities,” White-Mifetu said in a statement. “The Arts of Africa collection, ranging from the historical to the contemporary, will serve as a vital springboard to generate meaningful conversations amongst visitors of all generations and cultures.” CT


IMAGE: Ernestine White-Mifetu. | Photo by Raphael Mifetu, Courtesy Brooklyn Museum


UPDATE (04/02/22): Correction made to distinguish that Ernestine White-Mifetu was not the first woman to serve as director of the William Humphreys Art Gallery in South Africa, but rather the first Black person to lead the museum.


FIND MORE A few years ago, the Brooklyn Museum hired a white curator of African art and it caused a furor


“African Art: A Century At The Brooklyn Museum” surveys the museum’s collection. Recently published, “African Artists: From 1882 to Now” explores the work of more than 300 artists. “The Language of Beauty in African Art” is forthcoming in April. “El Anatsui: Art and Life” is a new volume about the Ghanaian-born, Nigeria-based artist. “El Anatsui: The Reinvention of Sculpture” is expected in May. Also consider “Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness” and “Zanele Muholi.”


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