THE DETROIT INSTITUTE OF ARTS (DIA) is welcoming a new curator this week, naming Juana Williams associate curator of African American art. An independent curator based in Detroit, she recently served as director of exhibitions at Library Street Collective and was an adjunct faculty member in art history at Wayne State University.

Williams is rejoining the Detroit Institute of Arts after previously working at the museum as a research assistant several years ago (2016-17). Her new DIA appointment was effective May 2.

 


Curator Juana Williams. | Photo courtesy Juana Williams

 

“I’m thrilled to welcome Juana back to the DIA,” Valerie Mercer, curator and head of the DIA’s Center for African American Art, said when the appointment was announced.

“Her connections to Detroit, expansive curatorial experience and deep understanding of contemporary African American art will be vital to building and stewarding our extraordinary collection.”

“Her connections to Detroit, expansive curatorial experience and deep understanding of contemporary African American art will be vital to building and stewarding our extraordinary collection.”
— Valerie Mercer, DIA Center for African American Art

A curator and writer, Williams has guest-curated exhibitions at museums and galleries, participated in public talks, and contributed to several publications. On her website, Williams said “her curatorial practice predominantly focuses on deconstructing cultural and social issues, transgressing traditional boundaries of art criticism and curation, and countering anti-blackness within the arts.”

Prior to her role at Library Street Collective, Williams served as exhibitions curator at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids, Mich. In 2021, she was the inaugural curatorial fellow with Art Mile + Independent Curators International in Detroit and she is current a fellow of Black Embodiments Studio, an arts writing incubator and public programming initiative. She earned both an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree (art history) at Wayne State University in Detroit.

THE DIA IS ONE OF THE FEW ART MUSEUMS in the United States with a long-established commitment to collecting and scholarship focused on art by African American artists. The Center for African American Art, the museum’s curatorial department established in 2000, is one of the first-of-its-kind in the nation.

The museum maintains collection galleries focused specifically on the display of African American art from its collection, more than 600 works from the mid-19th century to present in mediums across paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, and photographs. Artists represented in the collection include Robert Duncanson, Augusta Savage, Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden, Benny Andrews, Jacob Lawrence, Ed Clark, Glenn Ligon, Mickalene Thomas, and Kehinde Wiley, among many others.

The museum’s efforts are amplified by an auxiliary group called the Friends of African and African American Art (FAAA). Over the years, FAAA has contributed to the addition of more than 60 works of art to the DIA’s holdings. Together with acquisitions, the group supports and organizes programming and events.

The origins of FAAA are rooted in the founding of the museum’s African Art Gallery Committee in 1962. The committee’s focus expanded to include African American art in the late 1980s, officially becoming The Friends of African and African American Art in 1992.

“I eagerly anticipate the opportunity to continue integrating African American art into the larger art-historical canon…” — Juana Williams

Currently, DIA is presenting “Shirley Woodson: Shield of the Nile Reflections,” the first exhibition of the Detroit artist and educator at her hometown museum, featuring 11 dream-like paintings made between 1987 and 2014.

During her previous tenure at the DIA, Williams worked with Mercer on the exhibition “Art of Rebellion: Black Art of the Civil Rights Movement.” The rising curator is embracing the opportunity to return to the museum with additional experience and greater responsibility.

“I’m excited to join the Detroit Institute of Arts team at such a pivotal moment. I look forward to contributing to the rich legacy of the DIA and the city of Detroit, and working as a collaborator as the institution reimagines ideas regarding arts, culture, and the role of museums,” Williams told Culture Type via email.

“I eagerly anticipate the opportunity to continue integrating African American art into the larger art-historical canon through bringing in stunning artwork and impressive exhibitions, as well as building on the outstanding scholarship the DIA consistently produces.” CT

 

FIND MORE about Juana Williams on her website and Instagram

 

FORTHCOMING In spring 2023, the Detroit Institute of Arts will present “James Barnor: Accra/London: A Retrospective,” a six-decade survey of the British-Ghanaian photographer

 

BOOKSHELF
Juana Williams authored text for the catalog “Rashaun Rucker: Up From the Red Clay,” accompanying a 2021 exhibition at M Contemporary Art in Ferndale, Mich. She also contributed an essay to “Senghor Reid: Shadowboxing,” another exhibition on view at the gallery last year. The Kresge Foundation published “A Palette for the People: The Vibrant World of Shirley Woodson,” an 80-page monograph, on the occasion of Shirley Woodson being named its 2021 Kresge Eminent Artist. Also consider, DIA catalog “Through African Eyes: The European in African Art, 1500 to Present,” “African Masterworks in the Detroit Institute of Arts,” and “Harold Neal and Detroit African American Artists: 1945 through the Black Arts Movement,” which documents a recent exhibition at Eastern Michigan University Galleries.

 

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