Deyane Moses’ work raises voices of black artists past and present
This morning, black students stood in front of MICA’s Main Building, holding a banner saying “Take Back the Steps,” to acknowledge the black people who were purposefully excluded from the school for almost 60 years. Current MICA student Deyane Moses, a senior photography major, organized the gathering.
A post on MICA’s Instagram also encouraged students to “skip the first hour of class to support the Black Student Body (past and present) … to remember those aspiring artists.”
The gathering was an extension of Moses’ thesis project and on-campus exhibit Blackives, which presents reproductions of archival photographs and newspaper clippings, along with photos of current students, to “revive the voices” of black artists who have been systematically silenced and denied entry into the institution.
According to Moses, “‘Take Back The Steps’ was created to honor and remember the black students who were not admitted to MICA because of the color of their skin. I want this moment to spark conversation and reflection on the past, present and future experiences of Black people at MICA. I want MICA to remember, admit and honor their past. I want the Black students to remember this day and tell everyone who will listen our Black History here at MICA.”
Blackives, currently on display in MICA’s Pinkard gallery, struck a chord with MICA President Sammy Hoi, who pointed to Moses’ work today in a memo released to students, faculty, and alumni to apologize for the institution’s racism—specifically, an egregious policy that intentionally excluded all students of color between the years of 1895 and 1954.
“I’m happy President Hoi acknowledged the past and is committed to diversifying the campus faculty, staff, and student body,” Moses said today, via email. “I look forward to working with them in any capacity that I can. I hope MICA begins to honor its black history as well as ensure a more diverse full-time faculty, staff, and student body.”
Hoi’s memo notes that after MICA admitted Harry T. Pratt, its first African American student, in 1891, the school’s board protested, and 100 students reportedly dropped out. “After Pratt graduated, the College adopted a color-line policy stating that only white students would be accepted going forward,” the memo says.
In the memo, Hoi reaffirms the institution’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and globalization, linking to the “multi-faceted, pan-institutional” plan which will guide the institution to “ensure that our campus now and into the future welcomes, respects and supports equally students, faculty, staff, and public members of all backgrounds.”
Moses’ work in Blackives and her online platform Maryland Institute Black Archives (MIBA) elaborate upon the school’s racist history. The MIBA website offers newspaper clippings on the Baltimore Art Center, a school founded in 1944 by Reuben Kramer that did admit black students; information on individuals such as Blind Tom, “the earliest known Black artist to visit [MICA] … a slave pianist and autistic savant” and Blanche N. Dugger, the first woman to attend the institute; a discrimination lawsuit against MICA, and more.
The MIBA website and Instagram both feature oral histories by current or recent black MICA students about their experiences regarding race and diversity at the school. Black MICA staff, faculty, and alumni are also invited to participate; this aspect of the project is ongoing.
Responding to the question of whether MICA is “diverse,” student Courtney Chase notes that all of her professors “have consistently been white.” Regarding what it’s like “to be black at MICA,” Moses Jeune says the school needs to “incorporate native Baltimorean artists and find more black faculty.”
Alum Keloni “Ke” Parks talks about being the only black student in some of her classes and recounts a few “weird experiences,” like when a TA presumed that Parks’ economic background was different from that of her classmates, or when a “white male student put his foot in my hair during a rehearsal for a play.” She says that overall she “felt fine being Black at MICA. Maybe to most these three examples are actually egregious, but I just try to assume people are oblivious. However, the guy who put his foot in my hair was a singular asshole, and he’s lucky I was too cowardly to throw down.”
Blackives, currently on display in MICA’s Pinkard gallery, has been extended through Feb. 22, and will be remounted in the Main Building’s first floor, from Feb. 25 through March 28.
Image of Blackives exhibit courtesy of MICA.