In 1975 after giving a commencement address at Harvard University, a student in the audience made a request to Mohammed Ali. The student asserted without hesitation “give us a poem”. Ali will then poignantly respond with two simple but weighty words that still reverberates today. He responded with “Me/We”. Decades later in 2007, those two words will become the bases of a Glenn Ligon neon text installation which fittingly hangs from the walls of the Studio Museum in Harlem.
Chief director and curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem Thelma Golden embraces the sentiment those two syllabi permeates through her work at the museum. In many ways, it is a sentiment about the relationship between the individual and the community. How these two dichotomies are inseparable and how impossible it is to remain in one position. This same notion is one that curator and programming coordinator Eunice Bélidor shares with her idol, Golden. Bélidor describes this in a recent interview : "She really wants to bring her environment into the arts and she really sees the art world as something that is not exclusive but very inclusive and that’s something that I do at Articule”.
As much as art and artists can be catalysts for changing how we think about culture and ourselves, curators and art centers’ programming coordinators like Bélidor are essential stakeholders to making this materialize. And with her position at Montreal’s Articule she is taking her own strides to cultivating this ideal. We had the pleasure to chat with her on some of the nuances of her position, her personal background, and some of the innate social responsibility involved in what she does.
"People would be most surprised to hear that part of the job of working as a programming coordinator is to also play shrink to the artists. Artist-run centres do not have a lot of money and we have to do as much as we can to provide the artists with what they want / need. Sometimes we have to make them understand that we might say no to some requests, not because we do not want the project to work out, but because the request is impossible. Sometimes you have to walk the artists in the different stages of the "break up" of their dream setting, but eventually it all works out and they're happy. Somehow I have also been able to play magician with some artists, making impossible things happen for them, because in the end, I want them to be happy to present their work at the centre."
What kind of a kid were you growing up?
Growing up I was the class clown, never shying away from seeking attention. I was also really really book smart. My outlet was fashion, watching fashion shows and drawing clothes. I always wanted to grow up so I could buy my own clothes.
What were your parent's personalities like when you were growing up?
My parents were creatives. They used to have a Christian band before they changed faith. My dad reads a lot and owns the biggest collection of books I've seen. My mom is way more street smart and was the provider for quite some time. They were extremely severe with us and very oppressive.
Can you remember an early memory of doing something you consider as being creative?
My sisters and I would spend hours drawing, creating songs and a play for my parents, but we never presented to them. My sisters and I have extremely good musical ears. I actually thought I would become a beat conductor at some point.
What have been some of your personal successes so far as a programming coordinator?
I would say aside from still being at my current job, the current programming at Articule would be my personal success. I gave solo shows to artists of colour, I made an all-female group show, I designed a good-looking exhibition for the HTMlles festival. Obviously I would not have been able to do all this work without the programming committee I chaired, but I can tell that this programming year really shows who's the programming coordinator at the centre.
HTMlles Festival at Articule. Photo by Guy L'Heureux
HTMlles Festival at Articule. Photo by Guy L'Heureux.
What may surprise people about some of the functions and additional tasks that most people wouldn't necessarily think you perform as a programming coordinator?
People would be most surprised to hear that part of the job of working as a programming coordinator is to also play shrink to the artists. Artist-run centres do not have a lot of money and we have to do as much as we can to provide the artists with what they want / need. Sometimes we have to make them understand that we might say no to some requests, not because we do not want the project to work out, but because the request is impossible. Sometimes you have to walk the artists in the different stages of the "break up" of their dream setting, but eventually it all works out and they're happy. Somehow I have also been able to play magician with some artists, making impossible things happen for them, because in the end, I want them to be happy to present their work at the centre.
"I think it is extremely important to give consideration to emerging artists, as they bring with them perspectives that may be foreign to an older, more established scene. You also want to program work (from established and emerging artists) that speak on current societal issues, because everyone is an actor of society and will be sensitive to seeing a representation of its era in a gallery."
Do you think curators have a bit of a social responsibility when it comes to being the steward of artist's work and their ideas behind them and in terms of display of the work?
I like having questions on curating because as much as it is what I do outside of articule, they are the most difficult questions to answer. Curating comes from the word curare, which means to care for. The way I interpret it is not only to take care of the work, but to take care of the meaning the artist wants to convey with the work, to care for the message, to care for its perception. I believe it is the curator's responsibility to open the public to the different meanings a work of art can have: the meaning coming from the artist, as well as the meanings the viewers give to the work by understanding all its layers. In terms of social responsibility, I believe that a well-curated show can make people think, learn and act.
How conscious are the decision making behind the programming in terms of having it connect with a general public as oppose to "an art scene" public?
If we were to relate everything to the art scene, we would be seeing the same things over and over again. I think it is extremely important to give consideration to emerging artists, as they bring with them perspectives that may be foreign to an older, more established scene. You also want to program work (from established and emerging artists) that speak on current societal issues, because everyone is an actor of society and will be sensitive to seeing a representation of its era in a gallery.
What do you personally want people to get from their visit to Articule...or what connection are you generally wanting to people get from a program...is it to learn, feel, share it, relate on some level to the artist your represent or....
I want people to feel at home when they come to Articule. I want people to not be intimidated by what they see, or if they are, to feel comfortable enough to ask questions. I want people to leave the centre feeling like they understand art as much as someone who went to school to learn about it. I want to break the idea that art is for the elite and I hope we do that at Articule.
As a curator/programming director, I'm sure you probably have to write about the artists work or how a group of artists work relate or articulate an idea or an underlying issue etc...how do you go about choosing language that speaks to the nuances of the work so as to create a favorable inclusive narrative around the work?
How much of the artist's input to you bring in pushing that language forward...
When I write communications about the exhibition, I prefer to use the art language I learned at school, because the people who will read about it online will probably be used to that language. The people who enter the gallery because they walk in front of it will see the exhibition first before reading about it. I also ask artists to tell me a lot about the show before I write about it, often using their terms because it is their exhibition. The gallery, the exhibition, it really is the artist's space, not mine. I try to stay in the shadow as much as possible.
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Who are some new creatives you are currently excited about?
I am excited by American writers, curators and speakers who are not afraid to speak about Blackness and art. If I can name a few: Nakeya Brown, Kimberly Drew, Antwan Sargent, and the team behind ARTS.BLACK.
You have an MA in Art History...what were you hoping to do after graduated?
With my MA, I wanted to research and write. I wish I could be paid to do research. I love doing research. My main, top, highest interest is fashion and I want to research and write on fashion as much as possible. I also wanted to work in a museum, so I blessed that I am actually doing what I wanted to do after my MA.
What do you find as annoying in contemporary art right now?
I am annoyed by people who say they are not able to find artists of colour or Indigenous artists to exhibition. I am annoyed by tokenism in art. I am annoyed by systemic racism in the current art milieu. I am really annoyed by the normalized whiteness of it all.
Where would you like to see your curatorial career go?
My dream it to be a curator at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum. Before that happens, I hope to research and curate exhibitions around the world.
Special Thanks to Zinnia Naqvi for Contributing Photos of Bélidor for introducing us to her.