Detroit Institute of Arts appoints Juana Williams as Associate Curator of African American Art

THE DETROIT INSTITUTE OF ARTS (DIA) welcomes a new curator this week, Attribution Juan Williams associate curator of African American art. An independent curator based in Detroit, she was recently exhibition director at the Library Street Collective and an associate faculty member in art history at Wayne State University.

Williams is returning to the Detroit Institute of Arts after having worked as a research fellow at the museum a few years ago (2016-17). Her new DIA appointment went into effect on May 2nd.


Curator Juana Williams. | Photo courtesy of Juana Williams

“I am delighted to welcome Juana back to DIA,” said Valerie Mercer, curator and director of DIA’s Center for African American Arts, when the appointment was announced.

“Her Detroit connections, extensive curatorial experience, and deep understanding of contemporary African-American art will be instrumental in building and managing our extraordinary collection.”

“Her Detroit connections, extensive curatorial experience, and deep understanding of contemporary African-American art will be instrumental in building and managing our extraordinary collection.”
– Valerie Mercer, DIA Center for African American Art

As a curator and writer, Williams has curated guest exhibitions at museums and galleries, participated in public speaking, and contributed to several publications. Williams said on her website, “Her curatorial practice is primarily focused on deconstructing cultural and social issues, pushing traditional boundaries of art criticism and curation, and countering anti-blackness within art.”

Prior to her role with Library Street Collective, Williams was a curator of exhibitions at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) in Grand Rapids. Mich is currently a Fellow of Black Embodiments Studio, an artistic writing incubator and public programming initiative. She earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree (art history) from Wayne State University in Detroit.

THE DIA IS ONE OF THE FEW ART MUSEUMS in the United States with a longstanding commitment to collecting and researching the art of African American artists. The Center for African American Art, the museum’s curatorial division, established in 2000, is one of the first of its kind in the United States.

The museum also maintains collection galleries that are specifically focused on displaying African American art from its collection, more than 600 works from the mid-19th century presented in mediums such as paintings, sculpture, 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 others.

The museum’s efforts are augmented by a support group called 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. Along with acquisitions, the group supports and organizes programs and events.

The origins of the FAAA lie in the formation of the museum’s African Art Gallery Committee in 1962. The committee’s focus expanded to include African American art in the late 1980s and officially became The Friends of African and African American Art in 1992.

“I look forward to the opportunity to continue to integrate African American art into the larger art historical canon…” – Juana Williams

DIA currently presents Shirley Woodson: Shield of the Nile Reflections, the Detroit-based artist and educator’s first exhibition at her hometown museum, featuring 11 dreamlike paintings created between 1987 and 2014.

During her previous tenure at DIA, Williams worked with Mercer on the exhibition Art of Rebellion: Black Art of the Civil Rights Movement. The aspiring curator jumps at the chance 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 heritage of DIA and the city of Detroit and to working as a staff member to help the institution reinterpret ideas related to art, culture and the role of museums,” Williams told Culture Type via email .

“I look forward to the opportunity to continue to integrate African American art into the larger art historical canon by contributing stunning artworks, awe-inspiring exhibitions, and building on the distinguished scholarship that DIA continues to produce.” CT

FIND MORE about Juana Williams on her website and Instagram

UPCOMING In spring 2023, the Detroit Institute of Arts presents James Barnor: Accra/London: A Retrospective, a six-decade inventory of the British-Ghanaian photographer

BOOKSHELF
Juana Williams wrote the text for the exhibition catalog, Rashaun Rucker: Up From the Red Clay, which accompanies a 2021 exhibition at M Contemporary Art in Ferndale, Michigan, at The Gallery last year. To mark Shirley Woodson’s appointment as a 2021 Kresge Eminent Artist, the Kresge Foundation released A Palette for the People: The Vibrant World of Shirley Woodson, an 80-page monograph. Also see Harold Neal and Detroit African American Artists: 1945 through the Black Arts Movement, which documents a recent exhibition at the Galleries of Eastern Michigan University.

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