In recognition of Black excellence in the communities of the San Francisco Bay Area, the de Young Museum welcomed Black artists, designers, business owners, community activists and thought leaders in light of Black Business Month with a private viewing of the Obama Portraits Tour and an intimate chat between the business owner Sherri McMullen of McMullen and the de Young Museum’s first curator of African art, Natasha Becker, on August 4. The discussion, moderated by Safiya Jihan Miller, focused on art, fashion curation and activism within the black community.
Panelists focused on the meaning of the influential Obama portraits and how they symbolized power and upward mobility within the art, fashion and entrepreneurial communities. The conversation centered on black excellence and the legacy we leave behind in art, style and entrepreneurship. Through the presentation of these now iconic works by Wiley and Sherald, the exhibition considers how portraiture has given visual form to notions of Black power, identity, status and legacy throughout history.
“Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of former President Barack Obama and Amy Sherald’s portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama are groundbreaking American portraits that express the sense of hope and possibility that inspires the Obamas,” noted Tom Campbell, director and CEO, Fine Arts Museums from San Francisco.
The event, Celebrating Black Art, Fashion, and Activism: Past, Present, Future, was part of the museum’s pledge to increase diversity and inclusion throughout its programming. After the murder of George Floyd and the civil unrest, Campbell pledged to update her strategic plans for the next few years by making the Fine Arts Museums a top priority as an anti-racist institution.
Campbell’s vision was to become a leader in redefining the museum of the 21st century as a forum that stimulates conversation and inquiry in the community, applying inclusive and diverse perspectives to our collections and the stories they contain, and making them equitable and accessible way presented. The de Young focused on five critical areas of improvement: presentation and development of the collections, exhibits, programs and community, workplace and hiring practices, and the composition and future growth of their board.
With this event, they have reached several of their revised target areas. “I was sure I wanted to have some kind of program about the arts (The Obama Portraits),” said Rosie Williams, individual donations officer at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Williams created this event to bring black taste makers and their allies together for a night of conversation and connection. Williams’ answer was simple, when asked what drew her to the panelists, Williams’ answer was simple.
“I work with Natasha Becker here at deYoung; She has a way of talking about the Black Arts continuum. Sherri McMullen is a longtime supporter of the museum and has a track record of bringing black designers to the forefront at her Oakland boutique.”
Born and raised in South Africa, Becker has focused on presenting the work of African artists, African-American artists and artists from the African diaspora. Her goal is to work to transform the cultural nature of arts institutions over the long term to ensure diversity and inclusion are front and center and reflected in hiring practices.
Panelist Sherri McMullen, founder and CEO of McMullen and mentor of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, is more focused on empowering black businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond through her new artist incubator program, headquartered in West Oakland.
“Blacks reach $1.6 trillion in purchasing power. We are responsible for ensuring that we all have a chance in every industry. We can vote with our dollars. We can say that I will only support companies that align with our values,” she says.