MOWE, Nigeria (VOICE OF NAIJA) – British-Ghanian artist Heather Agyepong was kicked out of an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, which was created with Black tourists in mind and was meant to be a secure and relaxing space. The museum has since apologized.
In response to what happened to Agyepong, a MoMA spokesperson told the Art Newspaper that the museum would “examine” specialized staff training and would “do more to protect the experiences of black visitors and visitors from Indigenous communities and communities of color.”
The museum intends to hire more staff to work on the installation, and it will confer with the installation’s designers about any additional alterations like improved signage and staff training.
Agyepong said in a video she shared on Twitter on 25 March that she and another black woman had been expelled from the museum after confronting another patron for laughing.
The artist and her friend were expressly at the museum to see the artwork Black Power Naps by Navild Acosta and Fannie Sosa.
In the video, Agyepong recalled saying: “I think the place is concentrated around black people,” to a white woman who was a visitor. Agyepong claims that as a result, the woman complained that Agyepong was “aggressive” before approaching MoMA staff, who subsequently requested Agyepong and her companion to leave.
In a follow-up tweet, Agyepong noted the irony of the situation: “Basically, they told me. You can never rest!”
ARTnews’ request for comment from the artist was not answered.
When questioned about the event, Acosta told the Art Newspaper that the museum had “not resourced” the artists’ attempts to organize direct action, racial sensitivity trainings, outreach, and social media campaigns around the installation.
According to Acosta: “We stressed that this piece needed a strong commitment to anti-racism as soon as we were first contacted and that not doing so could warrant harm to our community, and we have been insisting ever since.
“It is only now that they are willing to pay for this labor and are realizing how vital this is. It has been a difficult fight. A white visitor warned us to keep quiet in our own installation in January.”
The MoMA spokeswoman informed the Art Newspaper: “We apologized and reached out to Heather Agyepong.
“We are committed to producing programs that advance the values of racial fairness, and we recognize there will be difficulties to overcome and lessons to be learned as we encourage and assist artists and audiences to engage on these crucial issues.”
Agyepong is a photographer and actor based in London. She received the Photographers Gallery New Talent Award and the Photo London x Nikon Emerging Photographer Award in 2021, and she has previously been nominated for the Prix Pictet and the Paul Huf Prize.
The Autograph ABP and the Hyman Collection in London, the Centre National des Arts Plastiques in Paris, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, and the Mead Art Museum all have her work in their collections.
The Belfast Exposed photography gallery in Northern Ireland and the recently opened Centre for British Photography in London are now exhibiting her work as a part of the Jerwood/Photoworks Awards for Traveling Exhibition.