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Mabel O. Wilson: Architecture’s Whiteness by Design Can Change

by Carolina A. Miranda | Mar 22, 2021

2016. That was the first time New York’s Museum of Modern Art acquired a work by a Black designer for its architecture and design collection. The object was a stereoscopic image viewer developed by Charles Harrison. And, yes, you read that correctly: MoMA, an institution whose architecture and design department goes back to 1932, didn’t acquire a single work by a Black architect or designer until the tail end of the Obama administration.

That omission, along with the ways the museum has engaged — and not engaged — the ideas of Black architects during its history, was the subject of an illuminating essay by architectural scholar and cultural historian Mabel O. Wilson in the hefty tome “Among Others: Blackness at MoMA,” published in 2019.

“Modern architecture builds the world for the white subject, maintaining the logics of racism while also imagining a future world in which nonwhite subjects remain exploitable and marginal,” Wilson wrote in that essay. “The power of the architecture and its archive is to produce ‘whiteness’ by design.”

Now she has helped put together a MoMA exhibition that places Blackness at the heart of the show. “Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America,” organized by Wilson in collaboration with architecture and design associate curator Sean Anderson, unearths the ways in which systemic racism has shaped architecture and how an unexamined whiteness has served as a default in the field.

Read full article with photos here.

Mabel O. Wilson joined SAH in 2012. She gave the Eduard F. Sekler Talk at the SAH 2020 Virtual Conference and will be inducted as a Fellow of SAH at the 2021 SAH Virtual Conference. She has also served on the Johnson Exhibition Catalogue Award Committee. 

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