15 Sep 2018, by Laurèn Schrijvers
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Last year, Imara Limon was awarded the prize for being “Museum Talent of the Year” by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science. The jury was impressed with two programs that she developed for the Amsterdam Museum. As a guest curator, in the context of Black Achievement Month, Limon organized the “Zwart Amsterdam” exhibition on the dark-skinned role models of the Dutch capital. That caused so much discussion and provoking questions that she went deeper into her research with the “New Narratives” project. Until August 31st, Limon was an artist-in-residence at the International Studios & Curatorial Program (ISCP) in Brooklyn, NY. DutchCultureUSA had the chance to interview Limon about her work and experience in New York.
Imara Limon studied at the University of Amsterdam where she focussed on contemporary art and questions of cultural representation in museums. After her BA in Art History, she obtained an MA in Cultural Heritage: Museum Studies trajectory, as well as a research MA in Cultural Analysis. Additionally, her experiences as an intern at De Appel arts center and the Jewish History Museum formed crucial additions to her studies.
Limon's first project at the Amsterdam Museum was the exhibition and public program called “Zwart (Black) Amsterdam,” which was presented during the first Black Achievement Month of the Netherlands in 2016 (comparable to Black History Month). It was a temporary job, but Limon wrote a proposal for a follow-up project and never left the Amsterdam Museum after that.
In 2017, Limon was working on the exhibition "Black & Revolutionary: the Story of Hermine and Otto Huiswoud," an initiative by The Black Archives. Limon and her team conducted an archival research here in the United States on the Huiswouds at various institutions, such as the Schomburg Center, the labor archives at NYU, Howard University, and the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, DC. Limon describes her experience in learning about the Huiswouds as intriguing. To research the Huiswouds' involvement in international black communism made her realize the importance to see struggles for equality in a global perspective, such as in the history of Amsterdam and New York, two places that are inextricably intertwined. When Limon attended the launch of "Dutch New York Histories," she knew that she wanted to come back to New York and learn more about representation, race/racism, and exclusion in museums and cultural institutions in the U.S.
Last year, Imara Limon was awarded a prize for being “Museum Talent of the Year,” which enabled her to speak about her work on many occasions with a variety of people and organizations. This, Limon says, has been inspiring and continues to spark new collaborations and valuable exchanges of knowledge. The Prize also enabled her to do research here in New York as a curator-in-residence at the International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP), which is supported by the Mondriaan Fund. What Limon found a great advantage about having a residency at ISCP was the ability to have a quiet work studio together with over 35 international artists. Limon also praised the helpful ISCP staff, who encouraged her to visit many museums, artist studios, and cultural professionals in New York and beyond. Limon: "The disadvantage? You might see the contradiction in having a quiet work studio in a city that never sleeps."
In comparison to Dutch institutions, Limon has come across many similarities and common struggles in terms of dealing with diversity in the broadest sense: "It is not only about programming, but especially how an institution functions behind the scenes. Visibility is important; in the Netherlands, just like in the U.S., being a museum curator as a person of color is still uncommon and unexpected. This situation contradicts the fact that we are living in a time with a desperate need for more inclusive narratives that are being told about our shared histories."
"New Narratives" is the name of the project that Limon is currently working on, and focusses on a reconsideration of the narratives told by the Amsterdam Museum. The project consists of a multi-year research project that lasts until the year 2022. "New Narratives" has its roots in difficult questions: for whom is the city museum? Is it potentially interesting and relevant for a broad audience? Do we represent all kinds of Amsterdammers? The project furthermore consists of guided tours by people from outside the museum who critically discuss the museum's collections and presentations with the audience. Other missions of "New Narratives" are public programmes, exhibitions, and an international research project in collaboration with the University of Amsterdam that deals with city museums and colonial heritage.