I wholeheartedly agree with reviewer Dan Kany’s praise for artists in the Portland Museum of Art 2018 Biennial (Feb. 4), but his self-professed goal of conducting a respectful conversation about diversity rings false in light of his tone-deaf comments throughout, especially about the work of Gina Adams.

Adams presents an installation of four antique quilts top-stitched with text from broken treaties between Native Americans and white settlers. Kany doesn’t do his job as a critic by engaging with this work on a formal or material level before dismissing it as “wrong” and “simply wrong.”

His primary objection to Adams’ work is that it conveys the “message … that white men did the Native Americans wrong” and that what “worries” him is that Adams’ work somehow transforms the goal of the entire show into addressing the “problem” of white men, and that this might alienate the allyship of some viewers of the Biennial. This stance of aggrieved paternalism is unacceptable for an art critic in 2018, and reveals the fragility of Kany’s professed allyship.

Does the role of critic entail a modicum of self-reflection? Even if Adams’ work were guilty of “object imperialism” – Kany’s own dubious art-historical standard – might the 500-year history of genocide and cultural erasure of indigenous people in North America merit Adams’ urge to embroider over some non-museum-quality samples of WASP New England heritage?

It’s time for white allyship to mean more than a self-proclaimed approval of a few artists of color in a “diverse” show in Maine. It means, at the very least, taking account of our history and present before expressing one’s bruised feelings about artworks that simply represent facts about white treachery and oppression. We all need to be tougher than that, especially if we occupy roles as cultural arbiters.

Sascha Braunig

South Portland

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