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Curator at Museum of African Diaspora in San Francisco amplifies Black voices

Curator at Museum of African Diaspora in San Francisco amplifies Black voices
Curator at Museum of African Diaspora in San Francisco amplifies Black voices 03:00

Creating change is not easy, but for one museum curator, it's her life mission. 

Key Jo Lee goes to work every day knowing she's one of the rare few black women in positions of leadership in museums. The challenge in getting to her position, as the Chief of Curatorial Affairs and Public Programs Museum of the African Diaspora, has made her all the more motivated to be a bridge for the black artists she supports.

"When you come into MoAd, you're actually stepping in to so many different kinds of experiences all at once, not only in the ways of what you're seeing on the walls, but also the folks who work here," Lee said.

"I think my presence here allows that same Black girl to say, oh, I get to make new knowledge in the world, I get to gather these things together, and think of how they are connected thematically."

And one such theme is the diversity of the black experience, as displayed in the MoAd's latest art exhibition entitled Unruly Navigations, curated by Lee.

As Lee explains the unique elements of each display, such as on presentation focusing on an assortment of black licorice, available to observe and taste, she wanted to emphasize how the simplicity of common items, even candy, can provide a deeper perspective on racial perception, and the journey of movement.

"I was hoping to provide a platform for artists that are really thinking about how you move through the complications of history, whether national, international, or personal history."

And in many ways, Lee's role at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco is making its own history. According to a Mellon Foundation survey, only 4 percent of curators in US museums are black. Within that small percentage, black female curators make up an even smaller fraction.

That's why, when visitors experience the museum, whether through exhibits or art opportunities, it brings Lee great joy.

"Being part of this total building, the exhibits that I saw, it just brought me closer to myself," said visitor Sharon B. Dowdell.

Another display Lee chose to include, by Jamaican artist Nadine Hall, utilizes the cultural ingredients of coconut drops to illustrate economic growth in her community. Lee wants to show visitors that even the simplest items can be interpreted through a lens of empowerment.

"The Black experience is not one thing. but there are these gossamer tethers that tie those experiences together across time and across geographies."

And Lee says she's honored to be a bridge in that effort. 

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