“Is black art safe in MMoCA?” Lilada G’s exhibit is impersonal, and museum staff do not speak

For Madison’s favorite artist, Lilada Gee, who is featured in the Wisconsin Triennial entitled “Ainn’t IA Woman?” At the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) in downtown Madison, it was a dream come true and her time to shine. an art institution in the city where she grew up. The exhibition, which opened in April and runs through October, explores the intersection of race and gender, as well as the underperformance of black women artists in Wisconsin.

Three months later, however, sleep continues to be a nightmare.

Back in March, in a story that Madison365 broke first, G was verbally assaulted and belittled by a physically aggressive employee of the Overture Center for the Arts as G tried to re-enter the building where he was working on his art. “It was so shocking it took my breath away,” Jay told Madison365 at the time. “The woman was extremely aggressive. I have never seen such treatment in the years I have worked here. ”

The employee was subsequently fired.

G was too insane and traumatized to finish her work. She read an “open letter to all the ‘betas’ who interrupt black girls” at the opening of the Ain’t IA Woman exhibition in mid-May.

More than a month after the opening, Gee’s unfinished exhibition was visible along with all the other works by artists at MMoCA. Until the end Friday, when G received a call from Christina Brungard, director of MMOCA.

“She said she just wanted to let me know that there was an incident at the museum. She said that there was a misunderstanding and the mother and her children thought they could interact with (the exhibition) and painted some of the canvases and wanted to know if they could take the canvases they had painted at home with them. Ji tells Madison365.

Apparently they had already taken some of the sails, which were eventually retrieved. The timeline for this statement is unclear, as MMoCA officials declined to discuss details.

Brungardt sent Gee photos and a security video of the destruction.

“I absolutely could not believe it. And it was worse than I thought. And then I actually got the videos of the woman and the children when they stole the canvases, “says Ji.

All the canvases were eventually retrieved. But the damage and vandalism remained.

“On a canvas, it seems clear that they painted a penis on it and painted the whole board. There was paint on the floor. They open a box of glitter and pour it all over the table. They painted or painted on the faces of some of the girls I had there. They fucked him up, “G says bluntly. “So, I’m watching the video and they had almost 30 or more minutes alone with my exhibition, during which time they did it.

“And while watching the video, I see a doorman walking right past them… and talking inches apart. He says nothing. He does nothing in it. And when he passed them, they opened the paint cans. They take down the canvas on the table, “Jay continued. “And 15 or 20 minutes after the doorman passes by and sees them doing this with my exhibition, someone enters the room. So he did not take immediate action. In addition, there had to be someone watching the rooms during working hours to avoid exactly what had happened, and I will tell you that they had half an hour to 40 minutes alone with my exhibit.

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
(Photo by David Damer)

Gee says she paused for a moment before answering Brungardt’s call late Friday afternoon.

“Wait a minute. You call me to tell me that someone has vandalized my exhibition. And you want to know if they can take home the sails they vandalized? I said, “Why are you calling me and asking me this?” She said, “Well, I promised them I would ask.” And I said, “That’s so disrespectful. I can’t believe you called me to ask me this question. I refuse this call. She says, “Can I call you?” I said, “No, don’t call me back.”

Madison365 had several questions about the incident and turned to talk to Brungardt, who responded late Tuesday afternoon.

“There are some things I really can’t discuss just because of the nature of things,” Brungardt told Madison365. “I can say that we are really sad that this happened and we deeply apologize to Lilada for what happened. Honestly, this is completely against everything we had hoped for with this exhibition and our commitment to artists in our defense of art. But out of respect for the performer and the feedback we expect from her, as well as the investigation, we really can’t discuss it in more detail at the moment.

“My heart goes to her. We absolutely love working with Lilada and I can’t imagine how much trauma this causes, “she added.

Later that day, MMoCA emailed Madison365:

“Madison Museum of Contemporary Art staff and the Board of Trustees are saddened
and deeply concerned about the incident on Friday, June 24, 2022, when an adult visitor
and two children caused damage to an installation by artist Lilada Ji. The museum
would like to sincerely apologize to Lilada G for what happened.

The incident is particularly worrying in light of the fact that the Wisconsin Triennial in 2022.
Ain’t IA Woman ?, an exhibition in which Ji joined 22 other black women and women
artists with ties to Wisconsin, was so well received by visitors from Madison and
around the region.

The museum is in communication with Ji and a guest curator of Ain’t IA
A woman? about the incident, but could not make more public comment until
the incident is being investigated. “

Gee tells Madison365 that she remains dissatisfied with her quest to find out who vandalized her exhibit and why they vandalized it so easily.

“And the director decided she wasn’t going to charge, and then she sent me a message asking, ‘Do I want to charge?’ And I wonder why I have to decide that when I’m not a director, “says Gee.

“This is a large museum in the capital, where someone entered and vandalized and destroyed my exhibited work, stole elements from it and then I am they ask me if I want to press charges, ”says Ji. “So they are essentially abdicating all responsibility. So, is art safe in MMoCA? I even have to clarify: is black art safe in MMoCA?

Gee says there are about two dozen artists who were part of the Am I a Woman exhibition? No other cases of vandalism have been reported.

“The original intention of this piece was to tell the stories of silent and invisible black girls. “The original intention to do so was interrupted by the first incident with an Overture Center employee,” says Gee. “Now I’m telling the story of what too many black women face when they’re interrupted – the micro- and macro-aggressions and all these things that are happening to us that are susceptible to all the stress-related diseases that black women are at the forefront of. in the list of. So now this is the story I’m trying to tell with this piece. And then this is destroyed and treated, in my opinion, without honor by the director, by calling me and saying this and not raising charges.

“What if it was a piece borrowed from a famous national artist?” What would they do then? I don’t put myself on the same level as this, but I love my art as much as they do, “she added.

Isn’t IA a woman?, which highlights a group of generations of black women artists working in a variety of disciplines, including murals, prints, sculpture, painting, performance, textiles and more, runs through Oct. 9 at MMoCA. Ji says that as far as she knows, her piece is still there … vandalized.

“It’s ridiculous. I was shocked,” she said. “To see how long these people can be with my exhibition unattended and to see what they are allowed to do with it and the fact that one of their employees saw them do it and did nothing. It’s getting worse and worse. “

In addition to being Madison’s favorite artist, Gee is the founder and president of Defending Black Girlhood and Black Women Heal, a Madison-based nonprofit that educates, empowers, engages, and equips black women and girls in the treatment and prevention of sexual violence in Madison. our communities.

“Isn’t IA a woman?” Had to be a very special time for her to work with other black women artists in a safe space where she could showcase her talents to the larger Madison art community. Instead, she was traumatized.

Twice.

“I really want people to understand the attack that black women are subjected to, and the stress we are constantly flooded with, and the disrespect, absurdity and harassment we face. It’s the dizziness of what it means to be a black woman trying to do everything positive, even just painting, “says Gee. “I am not marching. I’m not vandalizing anything. I’m not attacking anyone. I’m just trying to live my best life. And this is what we have to face constantly. So now I’m trying to find the balance to deal with this situation and stay in a place where I won’t harm my own health because I’m so stressed. “

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