Carmen Hermo: A Curator of Note

Carmen Hermo. Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.

Carmen Hermo, a curator at the Brooklyn Museum, is a visionary known for her dedication to social and cultural activism. Some memorable exhibitions include “Roots of “The Dinner Party”: History in the Making” (2017), “Half the Picture: A Feminist Look at the Collection” (2018-19), and co-organized shows like “Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty” (2016-17). 

Amid the pandemic, she paired with Baseera Khan to collaborate virtually on the conceptualization of “I Am an Archive” at the Brooklyn Museum. Hermo delves into the details of her curatorial process for the exhibition, sharing her approach as a leading contemporary curator.

Baseera Khan, Privacy Control, Two-way mirror, steel pipes, vinyl text, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Simone Subal Gallery, New York. © Baseera Khan.

SHREYA AJMANI How did "I Am an Archive" come to be?

CARMEN HERMO Baseera Khan is the second winner of the Brooklyn Museum’s UOVO Prize for Brooklyn-based artists — the review process includes a convening of Brooklyn museum curators, and then three finalists are invited to submit proposals so the prize is based both on an artist’s work until that point, as well as their visions for a show at Brooklyn Museum. Baseera’s wonderful proposal centred on the “chandeliers” you see in the show, but the initial idea involved more communal space for connection — literally — and that unfortunately was totally precluded by the COVID pandemic.

Baseera Khan, Pink panther foamular, plywood, resin dye, custom handmade silk rugs made in Kashmir, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Simone Subal Gallery. © Baseera Khan.

SA What did the virtual conceptualisation of the exhibition entail? 

CH As we were working under the challenging conditions of the early pandemic months, Baseera and I spent a lot of time connecting and unwinding on zoom. We, of course, discussed the production of artwork, marketing, programs, and all the many aspects of an exhibition’s life, but we also grappled with what we were seeing in the world in all its chaos and imbalance, and how museums and institutions fit into it. Baseera was very poignantly discussing how their life — their experiences, their background, their upbringing, everything — is just as valid an “archive,” a “fact,” as anything kept in a museum, or historical archive, or state archive. This idea kept coming up for me as the strain that united a lot of Baseera’s work — on the one hand, collecting and so beautifully rendering those experiences into heart-wrenching or reflective work; but on the other, encapsulating the ongoing changes in how we perceive authority, and understand who writes history. 

Baseera Khan (born Denton, Texas, 1980). Braidrage, 2017–ongoing. Performance, duration variable. Photograph documenting performance at Participant Inc., New York, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Simone Subal Gallery, New York. © Baseera Khan. (Photo: Maxim Ryazansky)

SA How did the pandemic shape the exhibition?

CH The pandemic calendar changes also allowed for an amazing expansion — into the full gallery of the Museum’s centre for feminist art. As such, the scope of the show grew exponentially — I saw it as my work as the curator of the exhibition to support Baseera’s expanding vision, which grew from one to four new projects, and to create a cohesive exhibition so our visitors could see in rich array the depth, nuance, and radicality in the last five years of Baseera’s art practice. From there, decisions like how many from this series; which work from that series; where to place wall-based artworks in a room of shimmering chandeliers; how to display and contextualize performance within the work — all of that grew from our continued collaborations and conversations.

Baseera Khan (born Denton, Texas, 1980). I Arrive in a Place with a High Level of Psychic Distress, (Orange), 2021. Chromogenic photograph and laser-cut acrylic, 62 × 37 in. (157.48 × 93.98 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Simone Subal Gallery, New York. © Baseera Khan. (Photo: Stephen Takacs)

SA How has your experience been over the last nine months?

CH It has been amazing! We began work on the show a year out from the opening, October 2020 until the opening in October 2021. The exhibition’s nice long run has really inspired an array of different responses, and our audiences dove deep into the show. There was a lot of love and enthusiasm for Baseera’s brilliant new body-scanned self-portrait — for instance, during our “Obama Portraits” exhibition, I spoke with folks visiting the galleries who were inspired by Baseera’s way of representing herself next to the genre-defying US presidential portraits by Amy Sherald and Kehinde Wiley. Folks also really responded to Baseera’s “Braidrage” performance, witnessing that fortitude and endurance. And finally, Baseera’s recent closing performance “I Am an Archive” included live painting, a new text, and live music with a great band… I love to feel that connection out from an artist and an exhibition in the ways that our audiences and other people connect with the work, too. And of course, connecting with Baseera around the new work and the creation of this show together has been a very expansive experience learning from them and their deep, layered approach to challenging the boundaries of mediums, yes, but also from their experiences of family archiving, present-day imperialism, historical colonialism, surveillance, and more, as they manifest in their important work.


July 31, 2022

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