Prompted by Jane Burke
On Medium, “Disability Representation and the Arts” by Damon McLeese, in response to Tilt West’s roundtable on Curation & Identity
This roundtable topic arose from my personal experience as a BIPOC/WOC working in the museum field aka predominantly white institutions (PWI) during the reactionary rise in DEI/EDI/JEDI/IDEA initiatives in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in late May of 2020. For the sake of simplicity, I will use the term DEI (diversity, equity, & inclusion) moving forward (perhaps we all need to take a shot whenever an acronym is said. The way in which DEI is “performed” through the coopting of language is a topic onto itself).
The paradox of the current DEI climate is the optics. On one hand BIPOC artists/curators are benefiting from increased opportunities, however as a consequence of the commodification of “inclusivity” and the politicization of BIPOC identities, there is an undertone of institutional tokenism. Essentially, I would like to revisit the notion of the “burden of representation” which Kobena Mercer coined in 1990 in relation to the expectation of Black artists to act as spokespeople for all Black people. 
As I was unable to find a free copy online of Mercer’s essay, here is an updated interpretation by Monica Junejain, wherein she addresses a more nuanced “integrated casting” in context with today’s global art markets marked by “multicultural commodity fetishism” and the “hyper-visibility” of the “other.” Juneja’s essay essentially echoes my issue with how the Western art historical canon and subsequently DEI classifies identity based on the limitations of locality .
I’ve experienced this limitation my whole life, especially as an art student during my undergrad and most recently when I was asked to jury/curate a show featuring Asian American artists during AAPI Heritage month this past spring. On one hand, I felt a sense of “permission” from the artists to represent them, and on the other, a sense of racial imposter syndrome (RIS?) as a transracial Korean American adoptee raised by privileged white parents.
Ultimately the questions I am posing are best articulated by Aram Han Sifuentes in How Internalized White Supremacy Manifests for my BIPOC Students in Art School. “As an educator, I ask my students, what is the alternative? What are other ways we can talk about our identities and how they inform our practices? Do we not label ourselves? And if we do not, is that enacting the same attitudes of white, cis, heteronormative artists who evade labels? If others are going to label us and our works anyway, is it better to take control of how we are labeled? What are movements and art movements we can use or invent for ourselves to push back against white racial logic?” 
In the case of AAPI, we are often trapped in the model minority myth, wherein we fall lower in the hierarchy of the underprivileged or higher in proximity to white privilege and are therefore less visible in the BIPOC conversation. However, the construct of the “Asian American” identity alone is problematic.4 Racial constructs are ironically further compounded within the call to decolonize cultural institutions. The way in which decolonization is unfolding is based on a vis-à-vis relationship wherein BIPOC artists and curators are still beholden to the “burden of representation.” Here again lies the conundrum. How do you make the field more diverse without pigeonholing the pathway from the start?  This list of “top 25 curators” is telling in that nearly all BIPOC curators have made their mark by representing artists from their corresponding culture.
I am not faulting that, but questioning what real diversity looks like? If BIPOC artists/curators are continuously beholden to the “burden of representation” how is the field truly inclusive? How can BIPOC curators assert the same freedom white curators have historically experienced to curate whatever culture they like? Can curators separate themselves from identity politics ever again in this changed world?
Suggested Readings and Background Materials:
 Kobena Mercer, “Black Art and the Burden of Representation,” in: Third Text: Third World Perspectives on Contemporary Art & Culture, 10, vol. 4, Spring 1990, pp. 61–78.
About the Prompter:
Jane Burke obtained a bachelor’s in fine art with an emphasis on painting from the University of Colorado at Boulder and received an interdisciplinary master’s degree in Asian art history and Chinese language from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She held curatorial and collections management positions at the Honolulu Museum of Art, The Contemporary Museum, and The East West Center Gallery in Honolulu from 2006 to 2013. Burke is currently the Textile Art & Fashion Curatorial Fellow at the Denver Art Museum and has worked on numerous textile and fashion exhibitions since 2014 including: First Glance—Second Look, Creative Crossroads, Shock Wave: Japanese Fashion Design 1980s-90s, Drawn to Glamour: Fashion Illustrations by Jim Howard, Dior: From Paris to the World, Paris to Hollywood, and Suited: Empowered Feminine Fashion. She has also recently guest curated Colorado Asians at Artworks Center for Contemporary Art in Loveland, Imminent Archive for RULE gallery in Marfa, and Another Angle for the University of Denver Museum of Anthropology.