Emerging Curator: Allie Rickard

Allie Rickard standing by the exit of We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-1985, an exhibition on view at the Brooklyn Museum until September 17, 2017 / Photo: Meg Slater

Words and interview by Meg Slater

During my time as an intern at the Brooklyn Museum, I met many brilliant staff members, including Allie Rickard. Late last year, after having interned in the Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Allie was appointed the Center’s curatorial assistant. They now have an incredibly busy schedule, and work alongside the Center’s hugely influential curators-Catherine Morris and Carmen Hermo-to deliver socially, politically and culturally relevant exhibitions and programs that expand the art historical cannon and re-evaluate the conventions associated with feminism. I recently had the opportunity to interview Allie about their studies, time at the Museum and plans for the future.

MS: Where and what did you study? How did your study inform your decision to work in museums?

AR: I majored in Art History and Visual Arts at Barnard College. My internships during college actually helped inform my job decisions more so than my studies—more on that in a bit!

MS: Late last year, you were appointed the Curatorial Assistant for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. This sounds like a dream job. What attracted you to the Brooklyn Museum in general and the Sackler Center in particular?

AR: The Brooklyn Museum has been one of my favorite museums to visit since I moved to New York for college in 2011, so I feel very fortunate to be able to work there now! I have valued their focus on community trust and showing the work of artists who are not frequently shown in major institutions. I also self-designed a focus on feminism within my studies and I’ve long admired the work of the Sackler Center, including the recent Judith Scott and Zanele Muholi exhibitions.

A still from Howardena Pindell's Free, White and 21 (1980), currently on view for We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-1985 / Photo: Meg Slater

MS: What kind of work experience did you do prior to landing your job at the Brooklyn Museum?

AR: I did a whole bunch of internships during college at different arts organizations around New York—the Calder Foundation, multiple printmaking workshops, Jack Shainman Gallery, and Mickalene Thomas’ studio, among others. About six month after graduating, I started an internship in the Sackler Center researching black women artists for We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85—which I was thrilled to be able to continue working on once I joined the staff!

MS: We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-1985 recently opened at the Brooklyn Museum. You were closely involved in the early stages of development for this exhibition as an intern, and have been lucky enough to see it through to installation and presentation to the public as a curatorial assistant. Tell me a bit about your involvement in this monumental project, from start to finish.

AR: I came onboard at the Sackler Center in early 2016 as an intern and spent a ton of time researching black women artists, collectives, galleries, and important shows during the 1960-80s. I really love research and it was a lot of fun finding original sources from that time period. A lot of these are included in the exhibition’s first publication, which is a sourcebook of historical essays and articles. I then had to depart the Sackler Center and was hoping for a chance to come back—but I definitely didn’t think it would be as soon as a few months later! I rejoined the Museum in the fall of 2016 and assisted with nearly every aspect of the show, from didactics to installation to programs. Since I had done a lot of research for the publication, I took the lead on organizing and installing all of the ephemera that is included in the exhibition. Now that the show is up, it’s been really fulfilling to talk with visitors who appreciate the show, give tours, and, most of all, enjoy the stellar line up of exhibition-related programs put together by the Public Programs team at the Museum.

Sourcebook and marketing material produced for We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-1985 / Photo: Meg Slater

Section of an ephemera case curated by Allie Rickard for We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-1985, featuring material pertaining to demonstrations that took place outside of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the 1970s to oppose the ongoing the lack of institutional representation of art by women of colour / Photo: Meg Slater

MS: As you enter the final galleries of We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-1985, there is notable shift. The works represent a reorientation, away from formalism and more traditional modes of artistic production, towards postmodernism. I think that this is best represented in the work of Lorna Simpson, who juxtaposes photographs and sections of text to encourage viewers to reconsider the function and meaning of images within society. Theoretical concepts are also rife in this section of the exhibition, particularly the concept of intersectionality. As an individual who is well-versed in a version of art history that falls outside of the traditional canon and that encompasses a large number of minorities, how do you define intersectionality, and why is it a central theme in We Wanted a Revolution?

AR: The writings of the Combahee River Collective were fundamental to the framing of this exhibition, and this collective of black lesbian women was one of the first groups to theorize intersectionality. Their Black Feminist Statement (http://circuitous.org/scraps/combahee.html) is a must-read and an excerpt is included on the last wall of the exhibition:

“We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else's oppression. In the case of Black women this is a particularly repugnant, dangerous, threatening, and therefore revolutionary concept because it is obvious from looking at all the political movements that have preceded us that anyone is more worthy of liberation than ourselves. We reject pedestals, queenhood, and walking ten paces behind. To be recognized as human, levelly human, is enough.”

Intersectionality—the idea that “major systems of oppression are interlocking [and] the synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions” within which people live, as the Combahee River Collective’s Black Feminist Statement defines it—is central to understanding personhood and identity, which I think is important for understanding art. The 40-odd artists in We Wanted a Revolution lived and worked within multiple interlocking forms of oppression: racism, sexism, homophobia, economic inequality, and ableism, among other forms of discrimination. I’d recommend reading the work of Audre Lorde (particularly Sister Outsider), the Combahee River Collective, and the anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color—all are wonderful resources on intersectionality and feminisms developed by women of color.

A section of Lorna Simpson's Gestures/Re-enactments (1985), included in We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-1985 / Photo: Meg Slater

MS: I must admit, I did a little bit of cyber stalking to prepare for this interview and came across some information about your involvement in the mattress performance, Carry That Weight, coordinated by Emma Sulkowicz alongside other students at Columbia University to combat the growing epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses throughout America. The piece was rooted in social, cultural and political activism. For people in Australia who did not catch wind of this project, which was heavily publicized in the news, would you mind briefly describing its evolution? Additionally, based on your contribution to Carry That Weight, what do you think the relationship is between art and activism, and how can art be utilized as an effective means of activism?

AR: Emma is a dear friend of mine, and I cannot say enough about how highly I think of her work. Her durational performance piece, Carry That Weight, took place during her senior year of college and involved her carrying a mattress similar to those in Columbia University dorm rooms with her everywhere she went on campus. Emma was raped by a fellow Columbia classmate while at college and her work was a powerful act of radical vulnerability that not only served as a form of personal activism around her experiences but was also a catalyst for the burgeoning nation-wide movement against sexual and domestic violence in college communities and became a symbol around which folks mobilized for change around the country and world. To learn more about her work, there are many interviews available in which she has spoken at length about Carry That Weight—these are available on her website (http://www.emmasulkowicz.com/newsmedia/).

I think art and activism can help us be more aware and more critical of the social, cultural, and political conditions in which we exist. All art is political and art that works in conjunction with activism can have the power to change the world for the better (by which I mean working toward ever more equitable, free, and just futures for all) by seeking to shift paradigms and frameworks of understanding and knowledge when these formations of power are hegemonic, oppressive, and discriminatory.

Emma Sulkowicz and Allie Rickard at the Columbia University rally held on the Carry That Weight Day of Action, October 29, 2014 / Photo: Jo Chiang

MS: Are you thinking about post-graduate studies at all? If yes, where and what will you study?

AR: Yes, I want to attend grad school for Art History in the next few years! For now, I’m planning on studying in New York so that I can continue to work at the Sackler Center during grad school.

MS: Who are some artists and arts professionals that you have researched, written about, met or worked with that have influenced your approach to interpreting and/or creating art?

AR: The art historian and critic Rosalyn Deutsche was extraordinarily supportive throughout my time at Barnard. Her scholarship at the intersections of art history, feminism, queer studies, postmodernism, and urban studies has had a profound impact on not only how I think and write about and view art, but also how I understand society, culture, and politics at large. Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels of Jack Shainman Gallery and We Buy Gold Gallery was an early professional mentor in the arts.

Postmodern, feminist, queer, trans, and female artists are those who have most powerfully influenced the way I think about art and the world. Carrie Mae Weems, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, Barbara Kruger, Sharon Hayes, Zoe Leonard, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Rhys Ernst, and Zackary Drucker continue to be artists whose work I return to again and again.

MS: I know you have a pretty sweet situation going on right now, but what are your professional goals and plans for the future?

AR: I plan on continuing to work in museums and pursue a career as a curator in contemporary art. For now, I’m focused on getting into grad school!

MS: Do you have any advice for aspiring curators trying to break into the art world? (Particularly the world of curating, which I personally find to be quite intimidating)

AR: I’ve taken a pretty traditional route—studying art, interning everywhere I could, working in a museum, etc.—but there are other ways too! Plenty of friends and colleagues started out by curating their own small shows in alternative spaces. For me though, it was really internships that have gotten me to where I am today—they’re invaluable for making connections and learning a ton.