Award-winning author and Smith English professor Ruth Ozeki ’80 shares insights into her fourth novel, The Book of Form and Emptiness, which recently received the 2022 Women’s Prize for Fiction and is this year's Smith Reads selection.
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Shaking the Canon
Kimberly Drew ’12 started her blog, Black Contemporary Art, back in March 2011 with a simple post—a 2009 painting in acrylic and rhinestones of a young woman by Mickalene Thomas. Drew didn’t comment on the piece, choosing instead to let the art speak for itself. But her message was clear: This artist is worth knowing and you need to check out her work.
Five years later, Drew’s blog—with its mission of shining a light on black art and artists—has grown in influence beyond anything she ever expected when she began posting while still a student at Smith. Black Contemporary Art has become a go-to source for news and work by black artists. Her separate personal Instagram account has amassed 100,000 followers.
Recently, Drew took on a high-profile role developing and overseeing social media for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the words of a New Yorker contributor, she’s “one of the art world’s rising tastemakers.”
“Some of this success absolutely comes as a surprise,” Drew admits. “It was not part of the plan.”
Drew grew up in suburban Orange, New Jersey, and entered Smith in 2008, just as the country was sinking into recession. “You wanted to make the right [career] choices,” Drew recalls. She was a math-turned-engineering-turned-architecture major, all the while taking courses in what is now called Africana studies. Then she landed a summer internship at the Studio Museum in Harlem, working for the director, Thelma Golden ’87. “I changed majors a lot, but when I got to the Studio Museum, I immediately knew that working in museums in some capacity was the way for me,” Drew says. Every day, she was learning the names of notable black artists, both new and well-established. When Drew started her junior year, she switched her major one last time: to art history.
After her Studio Museum internship, Drew began looking online for information about black contemporary art and artists. Finding very little, she launched a Tumblr blog, Black Contemporary Art, primarily to educate herself, but clearly it was a resource others were seeking, too.
Separate from the blog, Drew’s personal Instagram account is a mix of vibrant images of Drew as a young urban sophisticate interspersed with her observations and social commentary. She posts red carpet moments from the Met Gala, writes “please send help” under an image of skin-bleached rapper Lil’ Kim, promotes the panel discussions she frequently participates in, shares invitations to exhibitions and weaves throughout a keen eye for visual art. Some of her most compelling images are of herself: posing with her golden locks wrapped in a bun that sits high on her head, wearing silver lipstick and looking straight into her iPhone camera. She’s on a journey. Follow along, and you’re amused and constantly learning.
“It’s interesting feeling so seen,” Drew says of her presence on social media. “I’m still navigating a lot of this world and trying to find my space in it. … In my Instagram account, I’m asking questions and presenting life in the arts for the general public. I hope that my posts can inspire people to get interested in the arts and to pursue whatever their own interests may be.”
Writer Antwaun Sargent credits Drew with expanding and renegotiating the canon of established art. “One of the things Kim always says is, There’s a difference between knowing art and seeing art,” Sargent says. “Her Instagram account helps people see art. So they can continue to break down these barriers to accessing art institutions and who belongs.”
Drew’s presence has attracted the attention of other online commentators; she’s been interviewed by NBC News, Lenny Letter and Essence magazine. In July she was the focus of a Talk of the Town item in The New Yorker. “Every level of visibility I get is more of an opportunity to support the work that I love,” she says, adding that she sees her work as advocacy. “If you ask someone to name five black curators, they’d be hard pressed. I hope that I can be one of those names and be a vehicle for helping people find other arts professionals and artists who are in this world, too.”
Africana studies professor Kevin Quashie calls Drew phenomenal for her foresight and ability to recalibrate. “The moment of recognition is not the moment you’re in, it’s the moment that reflects on what you’ve already done,” Quashie says. “I feel like our appreciation of what she’s done is not matched up to the fact that she’s now working on the next thing.”
Moving forward, Drew is saying yes to new opportunities and working on an art book called Black Futures with New York Times Magazine writer Jenna Wortham. “For me, one of the biggest challenges has been seeking more, and being inquisitive and strategic about the moves that I’m making, and also knowing I’m forging a new path without a safety net,” Drew says. “By no means am I interested in doing things that are safe.”
April Simpson ’06 is a writer in Washington, D.C.
This story appears in the Fall 2016 issue of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly.