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A conversation with Dr. Asma Naeem

episode 14
Apr 21 2020

Dr. Asma Naeem, Chief Curator for the Baltimore Museum of Art, discusses women and gender fluidity representation in the BMA 2020 Vision initiative.

About our guest
Asma Naeem is an art historian and chief curator at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Previously she was a curator of prints, drawings, and photographs at the National Portrait Gallery in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. Specializing in American and Contemporary Islamic art, Naeem is particularly interested in the effects of displacement and dispossession, the history of technology, and the sensorial imagination of both artist and beholder. She holds a B.A. in Art History and Political Science from Johns Hopkins University, a J.D. from Temple University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. Her publications include the recently published book "Out of Earshot: Sound and Technology in American Art, 1847-1897” and reviews for Artforum and Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies.


Baltimore Museum of Art



Zackary Drucker, installation view, BMA 2020 Vision initiative

“It’s fascinating to think about the ways in which museums have from the very beginning been part of the public fabric, the social fabric, and welcoming to people from all different kinds of backgrounds”

Candice Breitz “Too Long, Didn't Read TDLR”, BMA 2020 Vision initiative

Ellen Lesperance: Velvet Fist, “As If The Earth Itself Was Ours By New Covenant”, BMA 2020 Vision initiative

Commemorating women and gender fluidity in the arts

Naeem says that while discussing how to commemorate the occasion, the question really became how to recognize the event while also being provocative about social justice issues and representation.

“We decided that the best way to discuss the trajectory that women have made in the past 100 years was to devote an entire year of exhibitions to women artists or artists who identify as women, as well as to focus our acquisitions on works that were made by women,”Naeem says.

The decision to include women artists and artists who identify as women has generated a great deal of discussion.

While some responses to the decision and the initiative itself were predictably adverse—questioning the need to have a focus on women or to be inclusive of transgender women artists—overall the comments have been robustly positive and have even questioned whether the museum has gone far enough to make a real, lasting difference.

Inspiring other museums to shift priorities

Although the focus on women and women-identifying artists for the 2020 Vision initiative is an unprecedented move, Naeem says that she feels that “we are part of a historic moment, one that we will not be able to fully understand until we’re well past it.”

She comments that other museums are looking to the Baltimore Museum of Art as both an inspiration and an example for their own programming. Many are implementing their own women-focused exhibitions, or saying that they want to in the near future.

Naeem also welcomes an overall trend toward making museums less rarefied and more accessible to everyone regardless of demographics or socioeconomic level.

“It’s fascinating to think about the ways in which museums have from the very beginning been part of the public fabric, the social fabric, and welcoming to people from all different kinds of backgrounds,”
she says.

“It [art] doesn’t just feed our soul. It is a way to discuss so many important daily facets of our daily existence and of our more deeper questions that we’re all trying to answer.”


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