At the New Museum, Faith Ringgold and Women in the Workforce

The Cut and the New Museum are teaming up for a series of lectures on the intersections of self, society and contemporary art, drawing inspiration from the museum’s upcoming exhibitions. This week’s inaugural live panel, led by Rebecca Traister, featured Isolde Brielmaier, Paola Ramos and Kimberly Drew. They discussed women, work and leadership.

As befits an evening dedicated to women and work, the conversation was based on artist Faith Ringgold Americans series, which is on display at the New Museum until June 5. Still active at 91, Ringgold is a prolific artist whose career dates back to the 1960s, when she burst onto the New York art scene, carving a space in a world that had excluded her. The current exhibition, co-curated by Gary Carrion-Murayari and Massimiliano Gioni, captures the personal and political contours of Ringgold’s work: there are bleeding American flags, murals illustrating racial violence, painted fabrics with images of Ringgold’s daughters and a self-portrait. textile in which a naked, pregnant Ringgold wields an axe.

Photo: Mason Wilson

The exhibition also features the artist’s multimedia work, including costumes and masks as well as his famous “Story Quilts”, which combine tableaux with handwritten story borders. Despite her decades of contributing and pioneering American art, Ringgold’s work has long been overlooked, testament to how the work of black women – creative and otherwise – is systematically undervalued. “The subject of the conference is women and leadership”, Brielmaier, deputy director of the New Museum, told me before the event, “and we wanted to look at Faith’s work and pick out some of the themes: her leadership through activism and, of course, her deep focus about women and creating space for women’s work, she’s worked in all of these mediums trying to find a place for herself.

In the museum’s airy Sky Room, crowds lined the terrace, enjoying the panoramic view before taking their seats. For a bustling hour, New York Magazine editor Rebecca Traister spoke to three trailblazing women – Brielmaier, Vice News animator Paola Ramos and art writer and associate director of the Pace Gallery Kimberly Drew — on the relationship between professional life, power and identity; navigating DEI performative interest; and the demand for perfectionism in the workplace and the consequences it has on women.

Photo: Mason Wilson

Keep reading for highlights of the evening’s conversation.

Photo: Mason Wilson

“I feel so disenfranchised all the time in the arts. It’s overwhelming, and I can’t imagine having less power than me because it’s so hard to deal with, to go through each day and to understand that you have to be absolutely perfect to do what you want to do. It’s so boring. I would do so much more if I wasn’t invested in looking perfect and masking up at work all day…I try so hard to be good and succeed somehow but we get denied often a singular success.

About Drew: Kimberly Drew is a curator, writer and activist who was formerly social media manager for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is the author of two books, That’s what I know about art (2020) and Black Futures (2020), which she co-edited with Jenna Wortham. Recently Drew joined Pace Gallery as Associate Director.

Photo: Mason Wilson

“[The media world] sees me in many ways as the symbolic Latina. Suddenly my responsibility becomes to be the person trying to find out the Latino vote during the election, the person going to the border trying to understand the pain and despair that asylum seekers go through. I became the next person trying to decipher why this massive community suddenly moved ten points to the right for Trump. It’s a constant privilege, I think, to be in this room and to be put in this place, but the reality is that I can’t do these stories justice. That translates to an audience on Vice, on Telemundo, on MSNBC that also can’t really understand the dynamics of all these stories, which translates to a country that doesn’t understand one of its most important communities. I feel seen, but that’s not enough.

About Ramos: Paola Ramos is a host on Vice News and a contributor to Telemundo and MSNBC. An Emmy Award-winning journalist, she is the author of the book Find Latinx, and she served as Deputy Hispanic Press Director during Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. A political appointee in the Obama administration, Ramos is currently a Hauser Scholar at Harvard Kennedy School.

Photo: Mason Wilson

“I don’t do rescue missions. I don’t do renovation projects unless it’s on an apartment. That’s not what I do. Women of color, and especially black women in the American context, are often invited in and everything Oprah-fy. And I love Oprah, but I’m just saying — there’s kind of a caricature that people have of us, that we’re going to step in and fix things and appease people… I know what my job is worth, and I know when I am asked to do things that are corrective or representative, and I also know when I am asked to do these things for free… When we talk about this notion of a seat at the table, it still implies a certain feeling of belonging , and we are talking about a table that was based on our absence. So actually, I don’t want a seat at your table. I want my own seat and my own table.

About Brielmaier: Isolde Brielmaier is deputy director of the New Museum and guest curator at the International Center of Photography. Previously, she served as Executive Director and Curator of Arts, Culture and Community at Westfield World Trade Center. She has worked at the Guggenheim Museum and the Bronx Museum of the Arts. His latest book, Culture as a catalystwas released in 2020, and his fourth book, i am bubbly, is due out next week. Brielmaier sits on the boards of the Women’s Prison Association and the sustainable fashion brand Another Tomorrow, and is an advisor to Malaika, a school for girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She has a doctorate. from Columbia University.

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