Frank B. Wilderson III

  • RED, BLACK, AND BLUE: THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE AND THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN

    NEARLY ONE YEAR AGO TODAY, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) opened to popular excitement and critical acclaim, joining the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), inaugurated in 2004, as one of the only racially specific institutions on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Both museums, especially when considered against the dearth of official engagements with black and Native histories, offer vivid testimony to the artifacts, cultures, and struggles of the peoples on which they focus. Yet their presence also raises vital questions about such national projects—Who, ultimately, are they “for,” given what they are museums “of”?—in an era that has witnessed the rise of Black Lives Matter in response to police violence, and ongoing contestations over Native sovereignty and environmental justice at Standing Rock. To take stock of these tensions, art historian and Artforum contributing editor HUEY COPELAND joined theorist FRANK B. WILDERSON III—author of the influential Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms (2010)—in a candid conversation about the structural logics shaping both museums, in which these scholars at once echo and extend their long-standing dialogue about radical approaches to contemporary culture.

    HUEY COPELAND: These two museums are prominently placed on the Mall, among the other museums representing national culture, and much has been made of the “inclusiveness” of those gestures. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, for starters, enacts a particular spatial intervention, whose semiotics aren’t subtle: As many have noted, it’s a big, beautiful brown thing interrupting a series of white-marble buildings. The National Museum of the American Indian, on the other hand, doesn’t offer much chromatic contrast. But the undulating lines, unlike the rectilinear structures