Baltimore News: Asma Naeem is new BMA Director, James Beard Semifinalists, Remembering Irving Henry Webster Phillips Jr.

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This week’s news includes: Dr. Asma Naeem named new Director of the BMA, Flatspot Records founder Che Figueroa, remembering Irving Henry Webster Phillips Jr., Food for Thought exhibition opens at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, and more reporting from Baltimore Fishbowl, Baltimore Beat, Baltimore Banner, Baltimore Magazine, and other local and independent news sources.

Header Image: Asma Naeem, photo SHAN Wallace from BmoreArt Journal of Art + Ideas Volume 12



The Baltimore Museum of Art Appoints Dr. Asma Naeem as Director

(Press Release) The Baltimore Museum of Art’s (BMA) Board of Trustees announced today that they have appointed Dr. Asma Naeem as the Museum’s new director following a 10-month international search. Naeem has served as the BMA’s Interim Co-Director, alongside Christine Dietze, since June 2022, and as the Museum’s Eddie C. and C. Sylvia Brown Chief Curator since 2018. She is widely recognized for her advocacy of women and underrecognized artists, for her scholarship in contemporary and American art, and for her vision and work in collections diversification. She succeeds Christopher Bedford, who served as director from 2016 until 2022. Naeem will begin in her new role as the BMA’s Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director on February 1, 2023, becoming the first person of color to lead the institution.

“The BMA is committed to bringing diversity and equity into every aspect of its work, from the exhibitions and programs we develop to the works we acquire to our internal working culture. Since she joined the museum in 2018, Dr. Naeem has been integral to shaping this vision and to the strides we have made to realize it. Her dedication to this effort and her distinct perspective on how we can continue to create change made her the ideal choice to lead the BMA into the future. We are inspired and excited by the possibilities for our beloved museum with Dr. Naeem as our new director and look forward to our work together,” said James D. Thornton, chair of the BMA’s Board of Trustees.

Naeem will be the 11th director of the BMA, which has come to be known for organizing ground-breaking exhibitions and programs that question traditional art historical narratives and forefront new and underrepresented voices. The museum is actively working to expand the breadth of the collection with more works by women and artists of color, and earlier this month announced the acquisition of 162 historic and contemporary works that support the closing of critical gaps across the full range of its collection departments. In recent years, the BMA has also completed several major renovations, most notably the Stanley Mazaroff and Nancy Dorman Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings and Photographs and Ruth R. Marder Center for Matisse Studies, which both opened in 2021.



Baltimore’s Prodigal Daughter: Asma Naeem
by Suzy Kopf
Published in BmoreArt Journal of Art + Ideas Volume 12: More is More

Excerpt: Chief curator Asma Naeem’s office at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) sits just across a tree-lined parking lot from her undergraduate alma mater, Johns Hopkins University. After traveling the world and earning multiple degrees in various East Coast cities, Naeem says it is “absolutely surreal” to have returned to the same geographical map dot where she began her collegiate studies. Naeem has lived in Baltimore for the majority of her life since immigrating from Pakistan as a girl, and says this city is part of her “emotional fabric.”

Her mother works at a medical clinic nearby, and, growing up, their family belonged to a Muslim congregation that met on Hopkins’ campus, so Naeem, a graduate of Loch Raven High School in Baltimore County, is a kind of prodigal daughter, returning to where she began. “Baltimore is part of my DNA,” she says, but her time away has given her a global perspective.

After graduating from Hopkins, Naeem earned her law degree at Temple University in Philadelphia and then went on to work in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for four years in the 1990s. Naeem wanted to be a public servant, so she pursued a career in law thinking she could move the needle of progress from within. However, after a few years of this work, looking at what she calls “the underbelly of humanity,” she realized that the system was too broken to be changed, and the emotional toll was too overwhelming. Every day working as a lawyer was “pushing against the moral fiber of my being.” Two decades removed from the stress and strain of her years in NYC, Naeem confirms, “I do not miss it at all.” She pauses, then repeats, “I don’t miss it at all.”



Baltimore Museum of Art Taps Its Chief Curator as Its Next Director
by Hilarie M. Sheets
Published January 24 in The New York Times

Excerpt: The Baltimore Museum of Art announced Tuesday that Asma Naeem, its chief curator since 2018 and interim co-director, will become director effective Feb. 1.

Born in Karachi, Pakistan, and raised in Baltimore, Naeem practiced law for almost 15 years before switching careers and finishing her Ph.D. in American art. She becomes the first person of color to lead the museum, founded in 1914, and will oversee its collection of more than 97,000 objects and an annual operating budget of $23 million.

Naeem, 53, has been interim co-director of the museum since Christopher Bedford, the former director, left last June for the top post at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Naeem had a central role in shaping and implementing the Baltimore Museum’s strategic plan, adopted in 2018, that placed social equity alongside artistic excellence as a core principle guiding the museum’s mission. Since then, the B.M.A., as it is known locally, has been at the forefront of efforts to acquire and exhibit work by underrepresented artists and to diversify its staff, board and audiences — issues being addressed by museums nationwide to varying degrees.



Baltimore chefs, restaurant named James Beard Foundation award semifinalists
by Marcus Dieterle
Published January 25 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: Two Baltimore chefs and a restaurant are semifinalists for awards from the James Beard Foundation, one of the most distinguished honors in the culinary world.

The James Beard Foundation on Wednesday announced the semifinalists for its 2023 Restaurant and Chef Awards.

Among them are a handful of leaders in Baltimore’s food scene, including Chris Amendola, chef at foraged., and Steve Chu, chef at Ekiben, both in the “Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic” category; and Foreman Wolf’s Charleston restaurant in the “Outstanding Hospitality” category.



The Bold and the Brilliant: Six Baltimoreans Who Changed Everything
edited by Ron Cassie
Published January 15 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: The idea behind our January cover story, which pays homage to a collection of once-in-a-lifetime trailblazers—Hayden, Mikulski, Brooks Robinson, John Waters, Joyce Scott, and Kurt Schmoke— whose impact has been felt well beyond the city, had been kicking around for some time. The purpose isn’t to bask in nostalgia. Remarkably, most of our cover subjects are still keeping schedules that would exhaust someone half their age. But rather: recognition, understanding, and inspiration. The coming of a new year is, traditionally, a liminal moment of reflection and resolution as we look forward. Who better to learn from than this wildly diverse group?

Together, they are a set of extraordinarily accomplished, yet completely different personalities, by turns provocative, principled, cerebral, compassionate, feisty, funny, resilient, self-deprecating, over-the-top, and—the qualities closest to the hearts of Baltimoreans—loyal and unpretentious.

They each charted a unique, purposeful, and often applecart-upsetting path. John Waters’ outrageous perversion of outdated morality codes with films like Pink Flamingos may spring to mind, but so should then-social worker Barbara Mikulski’s battle against City Hall to save her beloved Fells Point. As should Kurt Schmoke’s courageous stance against the War on Drugs and public-health-centered approach to treating addiction and other city ills.

Meanwhile, the work of the rebellious and irrepressible Joyce Scott, who has described herself as a “true Baltimore babe and Sandtown girl,” can be found in major institutions, from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum. A spiritual force of nature, she is an outspoken social justice warrior and the city’s greatest living visual artist.



Flatspot Records founder on disturbin’ the peace with Baltimore hardcore
by Dylan Segelbaum
Published January 25 in The Baltimore Banner

Excerpt: Growing up in Woodbridge, Virginia, Che Figueroa skated with friends who introduced him to bands including Black Flag, T.S.O.L. and the Sex Pistols. He also lived near a Vans shoe store, where employees would give away free compilation CDs featuring groups such as H20 and Sick Of It All.

In 2001, Figueroa went to see Madball at the former Nation nightclub in Southeast Washington, D.C. Something about the music, he said, spoke to his 16-year-old self.

“It was just complete chaos,” Figueroa said. “And I was just hooked.”



A Tribute to Irving Henry Webster Phillips Jr.
by Teri Henderson and Schaun Champion
Published January 24 in Baltimore Beat

Excerpt: Irving Henry Webster Phillips Jr., the Baltimore Sun’s first Black news photographer, died December 22 at the age of 79. The images Phillips leaves behind capture Black life in Baltimore in its multiplicity. They are remarkably prescient, vibrant, dynamic, and joyful: children laughing and playing, a painted sign celebrating the release of Huey P. Newton, and a panoramic image of the Baltimore City Fair.

He was part of a legacy — the son of the late I. Henry Phillips Sr., a newspaper photographer at the Baltimore Afro-American Newspaper. His son, I. H. Webster Phillips III, is a Black artist and image maker in his own right.

Before his death, Phillips and his son founded the I. Henry Photo Project, a digital archive made from film scans of images snapped by the three men. The father and son also held workshops at libraries, nursing homes, and community centers, where participants could comb through the archives, helping identify who was in the images and actively connecting past and present to codify the archive. The archive currently holds over ten thousand images, and Phillips’ son is still adding to the collection.



‘Food for Thought’ exhibition to open at Baltimore Museum of Industry next month
by Marcus Dieterle
Published January 23 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: An exhibition opening next month at the Baltimore Museum of Industry will encourage visitors to ponder the impact of food insecurity and hear the stories of Baltimore school food and nutrition workers.

The “Food For Thought” exhibition will open Feb. 10 at the BMI and will remain open through the year.

There is also a smaller version of the exhibition in the lobby of City Schools headquarters at 200 E. North Avenue. That version opened in September 2022 and will remain on view until June 2023.



EatMoreBeMore’s 9 Favorite Cocktail Bars in Baltimore
by Chris Franzoni
Published January 22 in The Baltimore Banner

Excerpt: Unfortunately, this time of year is one of the slowest for restaurants and bars. And that’s due, in my “expert” opinion, to New Year’s resolutions to diet and give up drinking for a little while.

If you’ve managed to make it this far through dry January, kudos to you. If not (no judgment), here is a list of my favorite cocktail bars around town. You can also enjoy zero proof beverages at all of these establishments.



Baltimore County seeks community input on COVID-19 art memorial project at Lake Roland
by Latrice Hill
Published January 25 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: Baltimore County is moving forward with a public art memorial to honor the lives lost to COVID-19 and honor all those affected by the virus.

The memorial will be located at Lake Roland Park, which sits on more than 500 acres with nature trails, a dog park, walking paths, playgrounds, and pavilions.

The public art installation will create a meditative space for remembrance and contemplation for those who have died from the coronavirus.



Massive AFRO archives collection to get Upton Mansion home
by Jasmine Vaughn-Hall
Published January 23 in The Baltimore Banner

Excerpt: For decades, Philip J. Merrill dug deep into microfilm and other items at libraries and local colleges to access the archives of the AFRO American newspaper.

As the CEO of Nanny Jack & Company, an African American heritage consulting firm, Merrill is always researching and fell in love in particular with the Old West Baltimore neighborhoods. The archives of the newspaper, the longest-running Black family-owned newspaper in the country, has informed a lot of his work.

“You really cannot do any research on Black Baltimore from the 1890s until today without digging into some aspect of the AFRO archives,” said Merrill, a Baltimore native.



Header Image: Asma Naeem, photo SHAN Wallace

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