“San Diego African American Museum of Fine Arts” -Kate Moriarty

Kate Moriarty

Dr. Miller

African American History

7 May 2019

San Diego African American Museum of Fine Arts

Museums, in general, play an important role in educating the greater community and preserving culture and history. More specifically, African-American museums do the same but tell a history that is not commonly promoted to the public. Fleming writes, “Rather than being marginal institutions, African-American museums grow directly from the culture and history of African Americans. They grow out of a desire to preserve what is of value to the people, out of a need to define and interpret the core culture that sustains African-Americans.”. African American museums have been around for a while but changed and developed overtime. In San Diego, there is the San Diego African American Museum of Fine Arts, which the community has a positive reaction to. The museum is a vital piece for the survival and preservation of black history and culture in San Diego. 

Museums like the SDAAMFA were founded in order to create a community where black people “tapped into issues of power, memory, and identity.” Shahmohammadi writes, “These museums allowed the community ‘to acquire greater self-respect, strengthen their sense of dignity and independence and work toward a heightened sense of communal and civic identity.’” Eventually, these museums transformed into something more, something readily available to the public and African Americans themselves. Fleming writes, “Within the last decade, African-American museums have emerged as important institutions concerned not only with American ideals and values but also with the relationship of those ideals and values to African Americans’ efforts to survive as a people.” 

1 Fleming, John E. “African-American Museums, History, and the American Ideal.” The Journal of American History 81, no. 3 (1994): 1020-026. doi:10.2307/2081442. 

2 Fleming, “African-American Museums, History, and the American Ideal.”

3 Shahmohammadi, Andrea. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy 85, no. 2 (2015): 208-11. doi:10.1086/680160. 

4 Fleming, “African-American Museums, History, and the American Ideal.”

The San Diego African American Museum of Fine Arts, similar to other African American museums around the country, educates the community on African American culture and history. This museum does so through the fine arts. Their mission statement is, 

to present and preserve the art of African Americans globally and to broaden the knowledge and understanding of the visual arts in Southeastern California generally and San Diego specifically by collecting, preserving and displaying works of art by and about African Americans; by creating and hosting quality traveling exhibitions; by collecting and preserving fine art and by developing and helping to foster an appreciation of art through meaningful public programs, symposia, and other educational programs. 

The museum originally started up in 1992, but closed ten years after the founder Shirley Day Williams passed. With the help of Gaidi Finnie and others, the museum reopened in 2013. The official website writes, 

The purpose of this museum is to present and preserve the art of African Americans globally. The museum’s programing is curated with the goal of educating those who are interested in learning and impress even the most seasoned art enthusiast.

It is clear that great art is simply that, great art. Where there is a difference is in the stories that are told through art; the lifestyles, the pain, the joy, the love, the struggles as told through the perspective of an African American Artist. These experiences translate into art, which is varied, unique, and undeniably the source of great pride for people of the African Diaspora

regarding why the museum was reopened. The museum’s purpose of celebrating and giving a platform to African American artists raises a history of black oppression in San Diego and contests to it. For example, the museum’s first show, called “African-American Abstraction in Printmaking”  featured figurative collages done by John Scott. Titled “Blues for the Middle Passage II”, the artwork depicted the struggles and hardships Africans experienced as they made their journey on the Middle Passage. Another example of artwork that challenges black oppression is a print called “Carrot Cakewalk” by Phyllis Thompson. According to the Los Angeles Times, “The cakewalk, 

5 “Aamfa.” Aamfa. Accessed April 8, 2019. https://www.sdaamfa.org/.

6 “Aamfa.” Aamfa

7 Ollman, Leah. “S.D. African-American Museum’s 1st Show Art: Printmaking Technique Overshadows Personal Expression in New Outlet for Neglected Artists.” Los Angeles Times, January 12, 1990. Accessed April 8, 2019. https://search-proquest-com.sandiego.idm.oclc.org/latimes/docview/280984737/fulltext/ED93C7D8070C4FE7PQ/1?accountid=14742.

based on an African song and shuffling dance, became a dance of subtle defiance among black slaves, in which they publicly mocked their unsuspecting owners’ movements.” Both of these pieces bring to light heavy topics and make the observer think and make them feel for the victims. But, not all of the pieces were created with the same intent in mind. 

For example, in a more recent exhibit titled “Dimensions of Black”, the point of the exhibit as a whole is to give a platform to contemporary African American artists. Gaidi Finnie says, “This exhibit has not been curated with the intent to confront racial issues. It is more accurate to note that we have showcased several African American artists, some who have used art as a powerful tool to make a political or social statement about the African American experience in America. Unfortunately, in America 2016 that experience continues to center around race and racial inequalities.” The purpose of this exhibit is to “highlight the influences each culture has had on one another culturally”. It is supposed to spark conversation about the artists and display how they have contributed to and been involved in contemporary art. Despite the differences in messages between the artists and certain pieces, the artwork is respected and appreciated by the viewers. 

The San Diego Museum of Fine Arts was successful when it originally opened and continues to receive the same success today. The community is impressed by the exhibits and the artists who are recognized. Everyone respects everything Finnie has done to keep the museum alive and well.  In an interview, Finnie says, “It’s important because it just feels like the African-American culture is just diminishing in this area… So far, we’ve been humbled, if you will, by the comments from the community saying, ‘We really need this. We really were missing this, and I’m so glad you’re doing this.’ This response from the community proves that African American museums are important in keeping black culture alive. 

Overall, museums are key factors into educating the public on important cultural events, topics, etc. Being able to transform history into art is something incredible and 

8 Delk, Laurie. “‘Dimensions of Black’ Exhibition Sure to Stir Conversation.” Pacific San Diego. December 16, 2016. Accessed April 20, 2019. https://www.pacificsandiego.com/things-to-do/arts-coolture/pac-dimensions-of-black-exhibition-story.html. 

9 Delk, “Dimensions of Black’ Exhibition Sure to Stir Conversation.”

10 Morlan, Kinsee. “San Diego African American Museum of Fine Art Lives on.” San Diego CityBeat. February 24, 2015. Accessed May 04, 2019. http://sdcitybeat.com/culture/features/san-diego-african-american-museum-fine-art-lives/. 

11 Morlan, Kinsee. “San Diego African American Museum of Fine Art Lives on.” 

should be valued by all. Fleming writes, “Museums can help by giving us a sense of history that allows us to call upon our own experience to interpret the past and to use that knowledge to shape and influence the future.” Robinson-Hubbuch writes, “At the core of every black museum is the preservation, interpretation, and celebration of African-American history and culture. But ‘American’ cannot be removed from the context without changing it entirely. African-American museums — and other ethnic-specific institutions — provide opportunities for addressing this dual identity, as issue discussed at length in black American literature, philosophy, and scholarship.”The San Diego African American Museum of Fine Arts is just another example of a great museum. Thanks so this establishment, the San Diego community is able to educate themselves on the culture and history of African Americans while African Americans themselves are able to draw power from the museum and be uplifted by such displays of art.

12 Robinson-Hubbuch, Jocelyn. “African-American Museums and the National Conversation on American Pluralism and Identity.” The Public Historian 19, no. 1 (1997): 29-31. doi:10.2307/3378977.  

Works Cited

“Aamfa.” Aamfa. Accessed April 8, 2019. https://www.sdaamfa.org/.

Delk, Laurie. “‘Dimensions of Black’ Exhibition Sure to Stir Conversation.” Pacific San Diego. December 16, 2016. Accessed April 20, 2019. https://www.pacificsandiego.com/things-to-do/arts-coolture/pac-dimensions-of-black-exhibition-story.html. 

Fleming, John E. “African-American Museums, History, and the American Ideal.” The Journal of American History 81, no. 3 (1994): 1020-026. doi:10.2307/2081442. 

“Meet Gaidi Finnie of San Diego African American Museum of Fine Art in Central – SDVoyager – San Diego.” SDVoyager. May 10, 2018. Accessed April 8, 2019. http://sdvoyager.com/interview/meet-gaidi-finnie-san-diego-african-american-museum-fine-art-central/.

Morlan, Kinsee. “San Diego African American Museum of Fine Art Lives on.” San Diego CityBeat. February 24, 2015. Accessed May 04, 2019. http://sdcitybeat.com/culture/features/san-diego-african-american-museum-fine-art-lives/. 

Ollman, Leah. “S.D. African-American Museum’s 1st Show Art: Printmaking Technique Overshadows Personal Expression in New Outlet for Neglected Artists.” Los Angeles Times, January 12, 1990. Accessed April 8, 2019. https://search-proquest-com.sandiego.idm.oclc.org/latimes/docview/280984737/fulltext/ED93C7D8070C4FE7PQ/1?accountid=14742.

Robinson-Hubbuch, Jocelyn. “African-American Museums and the National Conversation on American Pluralism and Identity.” The Public Historian 19, no. 1 (1997): 29-31. doi:10.2307/3378977.  

Shahmohammadi, Andrea. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy 85, no. 2 (2015): 208-11. doi:10.1086/680160. 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*