Mirror Making

The Role of the Gallery in Cultural Representation

“If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them,
at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.”

–       Junot Diaz

For author Junot Diaz, growing up without representations he identified with meant that he struggled to understand his place in his community.

As a cultural authority, the museum or art gallery has the ability to house representations that are denied elsewhere and has the potential to present ideas that destabilize established or naturalized knowledge. A museum or art gallery therefore also has the potential to create new understandings that could be transformative for its public.

From discussions at the Regional Diversity Roundtable, the AGM recognizes that organizational attitudes on diversity and inclusion is best expressed through a continuum and is an arduous process without set precedent yet.

Diversity is more than a set of statistics to prove an institution is friendly or tolerant; it’s, as Judith Simmer-Brown puts it in Commitment and Openness: A Contemplative Approach to Pluralism, “a commitment to communicate with and relate to the larger world – with a very different neighbour, or a distant community.” 

Inclusion could and perhaps should, be uncomfortable and confrontational: it means growing aware of one’s biases and privileges, of potentially recognizing and coming to terms with one’s position as a dominator, intentionally or otherwise, and of actively seeking change, of mobilizing to rightfully attribute power to those on the margins that they may define a space and a way to belong.

Are cultural institutions doing enough to ensure inclusion? What responsibility does the museum or art gallery have in ensuring voices from all demographics are represented? Artists: do you feel that your voice is represented in current conversations about Canadian art?

Let us know in the comments below, or join us and the Regional Diversity Roundtable in Tough Questions Café, November 26, 5:30 – 8 pm. RSVP here for the event at the Art Gallery of Mississauga http://toughquestionscafe.eventbrite.com or join on Twitter @AGMengage #905art.

Guest post by AGM Engagement Officer Tina Chu.

2 thoughts on “Mirror Making

  1. Justin Merced says:

    I greatly concur with your quote: “If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them,
    at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.”

    It is through art that we humans have been able to analyze, monitor, and define ourselves.

    1. artgalleryofmississauga says:

      Justin, thank you for your comment.

      I totally agree that art can be a tool for personal reflection to help us explore why we are the way we are.

      On another level, visual culture has very public effects and Diaz’s quote talks about how it also defines what we can and cannot be. For example, visual culture can deny a part of our identities by not representing it, implying it as having no place in society and making us feel monstrous by alienating us from who we are.

      The task ahead then, is to consider how, as an institution, the AGM can systematically translate its commitment to inclusion and equity organizationally, so that in our programming and exhibition, our diverse constituents feel meaningfully engaged and represented.

      That said, there’s a lot to be done and it’s an undertaking the Gallery is glad to receive help on, from the Regional Diversity Roundtable, other organizations and colleagues, and people such as yourself, who participate in these conversations. Thanks again for your voice.

      – Tina Chu, Engagement Officer

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