This has been a time of strife, uncertainty, and trauma for many. Before we can begin to celebrate the changes that emerge from the unprecedented public actions of the last weeks – and bolster those changes against cooptation and backsliding – we need to take stock of our own positions: our grief and anger, as well as our complicity and complacency.
To our small team at Momus, Black Lives Matter is not a prompt for intellectualizing or disinterested debate: it is a clear and unequivocal threshold – a call for the right to live, and to resist state-sponsored violence and systemic racism. It is also not a new call, or a viral fad, but the culmination of centuries of frustration at inequality, colonialism, violence, and exclusion.
Momus stakes itself on accountable, nuanced criticism. What we hope for now is not the performative gesturing of black squares and photo ops with kente cloths. We want to press for accountable commitments to real, enduring change.
Here are our concrete commitments, to you, and to ourselves:
- Teaching. Following the success of our pilot year, the Momus Emerging Critics Residency has launched two editions this summer – both to be held online – through OCAD University and Concordia University, respectively. Part of the impetus behind the first residency was to help address the lack of diversity in art publishing at its source, but this year, and every year going forward, we will both center and deepen this commitment. Bringing Black, POC, and Indigenous leadership to the fore of each residency, we will directly address, deconstruct, and help remedy the severe underrepresentation of people of color within the industry. We want to foster Black, POC, and Indigenous cohorts, and are ready to underwrite those successful applicants who cannot afford to participate (the two-week residency costs $600CAD) with scholarships and/or free tuition.
New Residency Leadership for Momus Emerging Critics Residencies (2020):
including a guest interview with Aliya Pabani
and leadership assistance from Lauren Wetmore
with leadership assistance from Lauren Wetmore
- Re-structuring. It’s time for us to bring a Black, or POC, or Indigenous editor onto our top masthead. Despite being a very small team, we can no longer operate as we have been. Our Senior Editor is about to begin a season-long sabbatical, and we plan to use this opportunity to engage Black, Indigenous, and POC editors in a rotation of guest-led programming through the following months. We will be taking concrete steps to ensure we can establish a designated editorial role in the fall, for a POC, Black, or Indigenous editor, through our intensive fundraising efforts and outreach this summer.
We at Momus regularly return to the top quote from last summer’s New York Times opinion piece, “The Dominance of the White Male Critic,” to recall a vital motivation for the work we have to do, and in our effort to heighten both our reach and relevance:
“It’s 2019 and we are in the middle of a renaissance in black artistic production. And you are telling me the best people to evaluate that are the same ones who basically ignored black artists for decades?” the art critic Antwaun Sargent tweeted in response to the Whitney Biennial’s monolithic coverage.
We recognize that many of the real problems in our field’s structure elude metrics; how do we measure how many young people of color never think of ‘art critic’ as a career they could see for themselves? How many are otherwise preemptively discouraged by a plethora of easily-imaginable factors conditioning the opportunities available to people of color in industries dominated by precarious freelance labor? How many leave the field, despite obvious talent and important perspective, due to disillusionment occasioned by the structural racism in publishing, both as an unstable industry and a set of old legacy institutions? Are many of these factors present for young white critics, too? Probably, but it’s hard to believe they’re not felt differently, and more acutely, by people of color.
We at Momus believe the Antwan Sargeant quote sings as well as any numbers could. The problem is qualitative, and the best hope we have for improving these structural impasses is to advance the kind of rigorous, thoughtful critical writing that understands this difference, and allies itself with the importance of context, history, and perspective, and opens the door to more voices, both editorially and in our content. We’re heartened to see projects like this emerge, a tracker for Canadian art organizations to address structural inequality, and an index of their material commitments. And like most of our peers, Momus needs to do better. We encourage you, our readers, to hold us accountable to these commitments in the months and years to come.
- Sky Goodden and Casey Beal