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After Overseeing Dozens of Exhibitions, Curator Emily Hanna Ready To Arrange Her Own

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By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

In her 17 years at the Birmingham Museum of Art (BMA), Emily Hanna, PhD, senior curator of the Arts of Africa and the Americas, has supervised about 30 special exhibitions. Now she’s looking to arrange her own.

“I want to organize a show on African patterns and design. I think that would be dazzling,” she said. “If [Hallie Ringle, the BMA’s Hugh Paul Curator of Contemporary Art], and I can get a ‘Black Panther’ thing with the costumes and this idea of Afro-futurism, [that] would be cool.”

During her tenure at the BMA, Hanna has completely redone each of her three galleries. One of her jobs is to research which art is the best fit.

“Part of that is thinking about what artwork the museum should acquire, buy, or solicit as a gift from someone to help tell that complete story about a particular culture,” she said. “We have to always be on the lookout for a work of art that tells that story just so.

“I go to conferences every year, and I try and stay in very close touch with all the different researchers in this big area I cover. I cover all of Central and South America, North America, and the entire continent of Africa,” said Hanna, who lived in Africa for several years. “I go to meetings and stay in contact with the researchers I meet. I also do field work.”

It’s Hanna’s goal for those who visit her galleries to have a sense of wonder “at the beauty of craftsmanship and what it took to make something.”

“What does it mean that a mother entirely covered a cradle board with beads? It was really hard to do, but the women in that family treasured the baby to come so much that they want the baby to be carried in something so precious to show the baby is loved,” she said.

People may think they know African and Native American culture, but they get an entirely different perspective when visiting the BMA, Hanna said.

“These cultures are profound. They’re very rich and old and have been around for thousands of years. They have a lot of wisdom … and a lot of teaching about how to be a good human being on this planet; … how to remember your ancestors on whose shoulders you may stand.

“I hope people take some of that away: the beauty and the dignity of those works of art and how it can help people be their best selves.”

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To read more stories about the BMA, click one of the links below. 

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