Coffee with the Curators | In Praise of Africanist Interns of the Harn's Curatorial Department

Susan Cooksey, Former Curator of African Art (Retired November 2020)
December 11, 2020

I have enjoyed and benefited from working with interns from the University of Florida and other institutions for over 17 years, and noted that they have become an increasingly vital part of the Harn. Adding their creative and innovative ideas as they perform a multitude of tasks that are essential to developing collections, exhibitions and programming, they have made the Harn shine. Several of them worked multiple semesters, and some have returned to work as guest curators, participating in events and programs, and writing for our publications. Some have assisted with acquisitions of works related to their scholarly research in Africa. After completing their work at the Harn, many interns have pursued careers as museum professionals and professors. I asked five of them to share their thoughts about how their work at the Harn influenced their lives. To them and the many other interns I’ve worked with, I salute you all and express my deep gratitude for your inspiring ideas and intensive work.

 

JODY BERMAN (Harn Curatorial Intern, 2003)

“Working as Dr. Cooksey’s first curatorial assistant in 2002 was a dynamic and generative experience. I was able to work with African art objects that I’d previously only studied in books; I was able to research new acquisitions and assist in the editing of the ACASA newsletter. She allowed me to become an integral part of her curatorial process and for that I am forever grateful. Since working under Susan’s tutelage, I received an MA in African art history and a PhD in American art history with a focus in African American art. I have worked as a Gallery Manager in New York City, and at the Charleston City Gallery in South Carolina, I co-curated the exhibition Sixteen Crowns: Manifestations of Ase with Dr. Ade Ofunniyin. With Dr. Ade Ofunniyin I co-wrote an essay, “An Ironwork Legacy in America: African and African Diasporic Traditions in the Work of Master Blacksmiths Philip Simmons and Yaw Owusu Shangofemi,” published in Peace, Power and Prestige: Metal Arts in Africa (Harn Museum of Art, 2020). My forthcoming book Laughing Til’ It Hurts: Racism, Humor and the Burden of Representation will be published by Penn State University Press and the American Humor Studies Association. Currently, I teach courses at DePaul University and Carthage College.“

 
Jody Berman
 
Museum Nights on African American blacksmithing, in conjunction with the exhibition Peace, Power, and Prestige: Metal Arts in Africa, with participants Jody Berman, top right, Yaw Shangofemi, below right, Ade Ofunniyin, bottom left and Eric Segal
 
 

CHRISTOPHER RICHARDS (Harn Curatorial Intern, 2004)

“I distinctly remember submitting my internship application to the Harn Museum; it was my first attempt at a formal internship and it was terribly last-minute. At the time, I was a work-study student at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College and I was just beginning to realize how much I loved working in museums. The internship working in the curatorial department with Susan Cooksey was an influential experience that started me on the path towards researching African art, and more specifically, African textiles (part of my internship was conducting research for Susan’s exhibition on personal adornment). As a site for scholarly inquiry and collaboration, the Harn has provided me with innumerable experiences that have directly influenced my research and academic career.  I developed an Art Appreciation course based on the Harn’s collection, I acquired kente and wrote an essay for Susan’s exhibition Africa Interweave, and most memorably, the Harn was home to my first, guest-curated exhibition Kabas and Couture: Contemporary Ghanaian Fashion (2015). The Harn and its entire staff, particularly (retired Harn Director) Rebecca Nagy and Susan Cooksey, allowed and encouraged me to be innovative and experimental in my approach to African art, art history, and exhibition design. Above all, the Harn instilled in me the importance of forging relationships with museums, locally and abroad. Although I have moved on from Gainesville after completing my doctoral degree at UF, and currently teach at Brooklyn College, the Harn remains an integral part of my identity as a scholar. I am grateful for all of my experiences and I look forward to continuing my professional and personal relationship with the Harn!"

 
 

Christopher Richards examining a Kente cloth during his post-doctoral Mellon fellowship at the Wits Art Museum, Wits University, Johannesburg, 2018

 

Christopher Richards speaking during a gallery talk for Kabas and Couture: Ghanaian Fashion exhibition, 2015

 
 

MACKENZIE MOON-RYAN (Harn Curatorial Intern, 2007, 2009)  

”I cut my teeth, so to speak, in museum work under the steady guidance of Susan Cooksey at the Harn Museum of Art. My time with Susan has directly inspired my own career, as I now teach undergraduates about African art at Rollins College. I use artworks firsthand whenever possible and make space to create and critically assess the stories exhibitions convey, using a curator’s lens. My research focuses on the manufacturing and design history of printed kanga cloth, which are commonly worn by women of modest means as wrap garments across East Africa, especially in Kenya and Tanzania. Themselves the products of global networks of trade, my research on kanga shows how women consumers drove design and production in manufacturing centers in Britain, the Netherlands, and Japan during the colonial period. I collected examples of contemporary kanga cloths while doing my doctoral research in Tanzania which are now in the Harn’s collection. I credit Susan with facilitating my first publication, for she invited me to write a short essay on kanga for inclusion in her 2011 exhibition and accompanying catalogue, Africa Interweave. Recently I curated the exhibition, African Apparel: Threaded Transformations Across the 20th Century, at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum and authored its catalogue by the same title (Cornell Fine Arts Museum and Scala Arts Publishers, 2020).”

    

MacKenzie Moon-Ryan researching kanga patterns at the Vlisco archives, Helmond, the Netherlands, 2011

 

MacKenzie Moon-Ryan speaking with employees about kanga cloth, MMR Veta, Dar Es Salaam, 2012

 
 

CARLEE FORBES (Harn Curatorial, Registration and Education Intern, 201214)

"While completing my MA in art history at UF (2011–2014), I worked with Susan Cooksey at the Harn as curatorial and editorial assistant for the Kongo Across the Waters exhibition and book. The project was truly a wonderful introduction to African art in museums and kicked off my PhD research on colonial-era art from Congo. I recently finished my PhD in African art history from UNC-Chapel Hill, and my dissertation is titled Making for New Markets: Art, Innovation, and Collecting in Colonial-era Congo, 1880-1940. While at UNC, I interned at the Ackland Art Museum where I co-curated the exhibition Evidence & Expertise (2016), and An Artist and His Figures (2019). I also assisted with the re-installation of the North Carolina Museum of Art’s permanent African Art galleries (2017). I am now working as an Andrew W. Mellon curatorial fellow at the Fowler Museum at UCLA on a project involving curatorial and conservation methodologies and colonial-era collecting. The whole journey began with Susan’s mentorship and kind guidance; sending Susan all the best in her retirement."   

 

Carlee Forbes examining Kongo raffia mats, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2019

 

Carlee Forbes and Susan Cooksey at the New Orleans Museum of Art for the opening of Kongo Across the Waters Exhibition, 2015

 
 

NDUBUISI EZELOUMBA (Harn Curatorial Intern 2013, 2014)

"When I resumed grad school at the University of Florida in the fall of 2013, I was immediately attached to the team working on the Kongo Across the Waters exhibition that Dr. Susan Cooksey et al curated. This first encounter was also my first foray into the Harn Museum of Art. I would revel in the experience with Susan, and the continuing conversations we had on an ongoing basis. Some of our discussions would yield the permanent exhibition titled Elusive Spirits: African Masquerades. It will not be out of place to stress that working as an intern under Susan shaped my interests to work within the museum. I have since gone ahead to work as a curatorial research specialist in African art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia, and I am currently the curator of African art at the New Orleans Museum of Art. My career trajectory is deeply appreciative of those learning moments under Susan's supervision."

      

Ndubuisi Ezeloumba, New Orleans, 2020

 

Ndubuisi Ezeloumba in his exhibition, Ancestors in Stone, New Orleans Museum of Art, 2019