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Where Can We See Ourselves?

By Therese Quinn

Only three students came to the first class, and we talked about our experiences with museums. Lydia had sometimes volunteered at the Puerto Rican Museum near her house, and Ramon had interned at an art gallery near the school. All Rigoberto had to say was, “I never go to museums. Never.” He then clearly stated his agenda for the class: “When are we going to visit the Mexican Museum? That's what I want to know about. These other museums don't have anything about my history. And they don't want us there, anyway. They see me, they think I'm a gang-banger and follow me around.”

After swapping stories, we discussed artists such as Fred Wilson and Danny Tisdale, who have called attention to the relationship of people of color to museums, and the work of the Guerrilla Girls, a New York-based feminist activist/artist group that critiques cultural manifestations of sexist and racist practices.

For our second class, we visited the art museum. Becoming familiar with using museums was one of the important activities for the class in those initial weeks. “I didn't know that 'Requested Donation' meant I could pay whatever I wanted,” Miguel said, as he watched me pay a dollar for our whole group's admission to the art museum. “I'm going to tell my brother - he really likes art, too.”

Before visiting the art museum, I passed out a sheet of questions for the students to keep in mind while they looked at the exhibits. A sample of the questions: