Newsletter Issue:
Spring 2019

Going home to the Brooklyn Museum

by Julius Brewster-Cotton, Cohort ’18

The return ¨home¨ is always met with an onslaught of nostalgic memories; moments that exist, but which have remained inactive in present thought. Going home to Brooklyn and to the Brooklyn Museum with IDSVA this winter was, for me, a moment in which  all of the moments that I have filed away in my memory resurfaced with an intensity that begged acknowledgment. I found myself faced with a personal invitation to a conversation of the ways in which mental growth and stimulation can change those nostalgic moments into moments of revelation, and in my case, a mourning of an innocence lost to a mind that can now reflect and say, ¨what has happened to my home?”

Growing up in Crown Heights I was always within four blocks of the Museum. I never knew what a museum was, in fact, when asking my father to pick me up from the IDSVA outing, he had no idea where the Museum was even though he has lived in Brooklyn his entire life. Why is that? Location. I eventually stumbled into the Museum at the age of nine, alone and unaware  of what was happening. I was introduced to the world of art without ever getting a formal invitation. No one told me to go, no one went with me, I just walked across the street from my area of Crown Heights, a THEN mostly African American and Caribbean community, to Park Slope, a still very Jewish, white and European community. Why is this important? Location.

Although within meters of my everyday life, the museum was in a part of Brooklyn, where I was not invited. To go was to subject myself to the stares and glares of people who, just liked me, lived the hegemonic and internalized racism of Brooklyn communities. The museum being in Park Slope, just one block away from Crown Heights, was simply off limits. Not just the museum, but Brooklyn as well. Many never visited our museum because of its LOCATION.

Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps,  2005. Kehinde Wiley.  Image Source
Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps,  2005. Kehinde Wiley.  Image Source

Now, 25 years later, I have returned home to Brooklyn and to the museum that I stumbled across as a young child only to see that now, in a gentrified Brooklyn, a new younger and whiter generation has brought prestige to the Brooklyn Museum and with them have arrived the curious black and Hispanic educated elite. However, my mind goes to the young and underprivileged in Brooklyn who still feel uninvited. While the museum has made efforts through their exhibitions to invite the young minority community into the museum, the location is still one that evokes fear of the brown body in that space. This is evident in the Kehinde Wiley painting, Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps, 2005, which is located in the far-left entrance of the museum, where mothers nurse their children, where people sit from exhaustion after traversing the museum and others simply chat on their smartphones. The painting, like the young underprivileged, is close enough to the museum but still left uninvited to participate completely.

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