Though most would call her a curator of art, Kimberly Drew sees herself as a “curator of experience.” As the former social media manager of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Drew is no stranger to the power of online networking to influence social change. Largely popular on Twitter and Instagram (@museummammy on both), the Brooklyn-based visionary uses her platforms to amplify the voices of Black artists and change-makers, and share whatever she finds “delicious,” which ranges from art to fashion and beauty. “Being in an ecosystem wherein I’m constantly being fed new images has allowed me to be a more critical thinker,” she tells CR.
Now, in the wake of mass demonstrations against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement across the nation, social feeds have become flooded with resources, suggestions, and pieces from artists of color such as Nikkolas Smith, Shirien Damra, and Charly Palmer. Drew’s platform has been no exception, through which she encourages her followers to take action and shares her own learning experiences. For example, Drew recently called attention to the #BlackDisabledLivesMatter cause, showing her support for the disability justice movement. The post featured a symbolic graphic by artist Jen White Johnson resembling the #BlackLivesMatter fist, but this time with an all-inclusive infinity symbol on the wrist, celebrating neurodiversity within the Black community.
Drew’s passion for social media emerged in the formative years of her career. In 2010, Drew was a second-year student at Smith College, and began an internship in the Director’s Office of the Studio Museum in Harlem under the guidance of Thelma Golden. It was at the museum, which has a historical interest in Black art and culture, that Drew was inspired to study art history and Africana studies, with a concentration in museum studies. In 2011, she created a Tumblr blog called Black Contemporary Art to uplift Black artists, sparking her interest in online media as a means of community outreach.
Drew delves into this outreach in her new book, This Is What I Know About Art, published June 2. Written for young adult audiences but applicable to everyone, the book recounts Drew’s personal journey as much as her professional artistic inspirations. “I really dive into my own career in the arts and some of the things that I’ve learned over time,” Drew says. “Like how my interactions with artists and artwork have in some ways radicalized me, and also helped me understand and better define myself as an activist.”
Drew’s activism reflects how deeply she values the connection between art and protest, a relationship that she has observed over time. “I don’t think that there’s been a movement that hasn’t in some way engaged with artists or artwork,” she says. “If you’re rallying with people in a protest, you use graphic designs to share all the key details. If you’re making a mural in memoriam of someone who’s passed away, that’s art.” With the abundance of protest artwork now circulating on social media, Drew sees the digital age as an opportunity for mass distribution of art that sends a message. “Art is how we resist erasure,” she says. “Art is how we remember, and how we remind folks both what we’re fighting for and what we’re hoping for.”
Though her book focuses on what she does know about art, Drew places equal emphasis on the phrase “I don’t know,” especially within the creative professions. In addition to her work as a writer and curator, Drew has made strides as a fashion figure, modeling at New York Fashion Week for brands including Kate Spade, Chromat, and PH5. She has designed for Reebok, taken over Prada’s Instagram account, and spoken up about the responsibility of influencers to strive for equity.
Her impressive feats were no easy task. According to Drew, “in art and in fashion, you really are expected to come in with a certain level of expertise and understanding that I think does a disservice to us.” Drew describes entering the fashion world feeling less knowledgeable than others as “an uphill battle,” but says she has learned more from admitting she doesn’t know than pretending she does. “I can’t quote the runways of 1994, and I’m okay saying that,” she admits.
The same goes for activism. Despite being tied to inclusivity and accessibility, protests and rallies can sometimes run counter to these goals. Details can get easily lost in a logistical frenzy, leaving people out-of-the-know. “If you don’t know where the rally is, if you don’t know the ground rules for a meeting, if you don’t know what to do if you get tear-gassed, you need to say, ‘I don’t know.’ It’s critical,” says Drew, citing the issue as “life or death in some cases.”
Instead, Drew has set out to normalize learning by asking questions, staying curious, and inevitably failing–lessons that she explores within the pages of her book, with art as a fertile training ground. For Drew, there is no time like the present to start learning. Her next project will encourage audiences to do just that, in a book entitled Black Futures that she is co-authoring with writer Jenna Wortham. The book, which Drew calls “an offering to future generations,” will explore the question, “what does it mean to be Black and alive right now?” and is forthcoming in late 2020.
Until then, Drew views this current moment in history as a crucial time to “sharpen our oyster knife” and continue making progress towards inclusivity in social movements and beyond. “The way that we are doing the work of inclusivity can never know a maximum,” she says.
This is What I Know About Art is now available in bookstores and online.
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