Four Questions for the 96th ANNUAL Jurors

Interviews conducted by Ksenia Nouril, April 2021

Ana Casas Broda

Dr. Kelli Morgan

What makes a good photobook? What are some of your favorite photographic projects from the past?

I’m interested in the depth of the project and the process itself for the author. I’m mostly interested in books where the author gets very involved with the history that he wants to tell and connects with content going very deep into the process of working with the narratives, materials, images, editions and text, which all come together in a very coherent way. We [at Hydra] have made around 28 photo books since 2018, which is a lot. I have my favorites for different reasons. One of them is by Diego Moreno. It’s called In My Mind There Is Never Silence. The second book is Musas Muxe by Nelson Morales, who is an author from Unión Hidalgo, Oaxaca, which is a community where there are Muxes since before the conquest. Muxes are men that are raised as women and that have an important role in society. They are accepted as part of the society and have an active life as women.

What makes both books so interesting has to do with many of the projects I work with and with the time we’re living in actually in Mexico, and in the world, but especially in Mexico. With the access to Internet and the access to cameras, photography has shifted from being a medium to photograph the other to more the people working about themselves. Access to Internet and having the possibility to see contemporary photography, to share work, to move to other countries and to be in the world through the media has completely shifted the way people in Mexico work. This also makes it possible to integrate contemporary photography into another way of seeing the world. The result is very intriguing because it provides ways of conceiving the world with which we’re not really familiar. Now, we have the opportunity to be invited to join them in their journey.

When reviewing work for a competition, what do you take into consideration? Form? Process? Content?

What interests me is when the author develops his own perspective, when they really get connected and involved with a theme they’re addressing, and when they commit to the project in the way the project needs to be addressed.

What projects are you excited to be working on right now and/or in the coming months?

At the beginning of the pandemic, I was very depressed, like all of us. Then I realized that I’ve always worked with different people from all over the world and all over Mexico. So, suddenly, I realized that I could do the same thing through the Internet and had the opportunity to have a much wider dialogue. I started a big, big program with people from Asia, Africa, Latinoamérica, Europe and the United States. We’re working on pre-recorded video sessions. One program is called “53 Hydra Heads.” The idea that we started with is that Hydra is this mythological monster that if you cut off its head, many others grow up. The idea is that we are multiplying voices.

We are also working on a few books. We had the third incubadora generation, and we have around 15 books that are almost ready. We just opened up the pre-sale for one book called The Mexicanas and we’ll try to publish three more in the coming months. We also started a pre-sale platform to promote the books. Shipping is very expensive. This is a problem for all the publishers, so there are many questions to solve. And that leads me to the last and most interesting project. The fourth incubadora will be made with artists in Asia and in Latinoamérica. The idea is to print locally. To not only print in Mexico, but also in India and other countries of Latinoamérica, then ship artists and not boxes of books, so that the authors can work with local printers. In this way, the process of printing and binding itself becomes part of the interaction of the author with the community.

How do you think photography can be used – to positive ends – in this pandemic and after?

The pandemic has opened up new ways of communicating, of creating a dialogue with communities all over the world. It has allowed us to be more connected with very distant and diverse communities. I think this is the positive part of the pandemic. It makes us rethink ourselves. It forces us to reinvent our way of conceiving reality. The only way of doing this is in collaboration. I think that the ways we conceived photography and our relationships with others has to change. The only way to do that is in collaboration with other people. There’s really no other way to work. That is a really, really big challenge, and it requires us to be open to different ways of speaking with people, to rethinking how we can collaborate, to rethinking what are our goals? For whom are we working? Why do we make books? Are they for a very small community? Are they for the traditional book fairs? Or, are they for another audience? I think all these questions are so important. It was urgent to ask them before, and it’s urgent to ask them now. So, if we want to do a book or want to make a work, for whom are we making it? Where do we want it to circulate? What do we want it to communicate to others? What’s the dialogue we want to start? All these questions are now new to answer in collaboration with others.

You trace your love of printmaking to A Collaborative Language: Selections from the Experimental Printmaking Institute (EPI), which you curated at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2017. What drew you to this topic? What did you take away from it?

It was one of those things where the project came to me. At the time, Curlee Raven Holton, who was the head of EPI, was retiring and he had been placing gifts of suites of prints at various institutions. I didn’t really know much about printmaking processes before that. Diving into those works, given the fact that they were primarily by Black artists, was heaven for me. I came out of graduate school tending to think of sculpture as the way that one could maneuver and do all of these cool, different things. Learning how printmakers did all of this really, really dope, experimental (hence the title), wide-reaching, deep-thinking processes was mind blowing as a young curator. My understanding of prints was rooted in the colonial period and 19th century. You ink the wood, and you roll the paper and that’s kind of it. But I learned so much more through this show, not just by looking at the prints but also by building my relationship with Curlee. It opened me up to the way in which a lot artists use printmaking as a medium in painting and sculpture. That expansion, the way that printmaking expands the artist’s practice, is why I feel in love with prints and printmaking

When reviewing work for a competition, what do you take into consideration? Form? Process? Content?

I am most interested in conceptual thread and form. Typically, what I’ll do is I’ll lay all the work out in groups and see what catches my eye. Form comes first in that regard. Then I look for the conceptual thread. Is this this just a pretty picture? Is it pushing me to think more? Is it reminding me of something deeper? It doesn’t always have to have a contemporary or even historical context, but does it take me somewhere else?

What projects are you excited to be working on right now and/or in the coming months?

The first would have to be the Professional Alliance for Curators of Color at AAMC [Association of Art Museum Curators]. I’m super, super excited about that because there is such a need. Curators of color need a safe space to think through how they’re wanting to engage community and are already engaging community, decentering whiteness, developing antiracist curatorial frameworks. They need a space through which they can talk through those things and workshop those things with each other and with other folks in the field who have been doing the work safely. Because clearly, the last year has demonstrated that museums aren’t always safe places for us to do that work, or to learn new strategies. I’m really happy to be able to work with AAMC to provide a space for younger curators of color to do that.

The second thing would be an exhibition – I’m curating the Annual at the National Academy of Design. We haven’t put out a whole lot of press about it yet because it’s in September. It’s great because it is the first Annual that the National Academy has done, I think, since 2015.

In addition, Tyler Green and I are working on a huge show: a collections project that really investigates and interrogates how American art has contributed to the construction of whiteness and American citizenship and validity over the years. I shouldn’t say over the years – from the colonial period to maybe the end of World War I. We’re trying to get that off the ground – lots of phone calls and meetings, drumming up interest.

What are your hopes for the arts in the wake of this pandemic and the repeated reckonings with systemic racism and social injustice?

I think the conversations that we’re having at the curatorial level with museum educators and museum staff are creating room for artists to be included, not just in terms of us collecting their work. Because really what we’re trying to do is change the model. The whole frickin’ structure needs to change. And so, it makes me think about artists like Seitu Jones, Rick Lowe, Theaster Gates or Jefferson Pinder. These artists have these very deep, community-centered social practices. All of this needs to be incorporated into building new approaches, structures and frameworks – not just collections – but also into museum spaces themselves. I think by doing that – including the artist voice in a more centralized way – we can then create better space and better representation. Or, maybe genuine equity, because representation doesn’t always work.

I was talking to a very high profile curator of color a couple weeks ago. They were saying it’s just time, like, the model has to change and it has to change now. The field is on the precipice of losing two generations of museum workers all at once – and not just museum workers of color. I don’t necessarily know where artists fall into this, but I know museum workers are, like, done. They’re at the end of their rope. If we don’t have a more collective conversation about this and create more collective action, I don’t think the institutions are going to make it, to be honest. I don’t know if people know how bad it is, but it is really bad. So, I think there is time, and I think the field is primed for it. There are so many of us who’ve been doing the work for quite some time, including artists, so I think the road maps and framework are there. We just have to be brave enough to actually implement them. I am hopeful. I’m frustrated, too, but I’m hopeful because I know there’s enough of us that know how to rebuild and rebuild it correctly – or into something better. So, the dismantling doesn’t scare me as much as it frightens some other folks.