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What Kimberly Drew Knows About Art and Activism

Kimberly Drew boasts an impressive résumé that includes an internship in the director’s office of the Studio Museum in Harlem, a social-media manager role at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the execution of Instagram takeovers for the White House, and, most recently, a compelling debut book titled This Is What I Know About Art. She founded her Tumblr, Black Contemporary Art, in 2011 and has since continued to use her talents as a curator and activist to inspire others and democratize the art world.

In our latest Cut Chat, Drew and Cut editorial assistant Andrew Nguyen talk about everything from their quarantine activities to how nightlife extends to community-uplifting efforts and the relationship between art and protest.

Andrew Nguyen: Your book came out at a very important time, obviously, as we’re all protesting against systemic racism, police brutality, and all of these things that have compounded. How do you think art and protest are related? I’m sure you’ve been asked this a lot lately. 

Kimberly Drew: Yeah. I mean, it’s my favorite thing to talk about. I was talking to some teens the other day, but one of the great questions that came up was…one of the teens has some sort of health-related issue and can’t physically go to the marches, and was like, “I want to make art for the protest. Is that a good way to participate?” And it’s absolutely a great way to participate. You know, there are so many ways for all of us to partake, especially through our creative gifts, whether that’s making a poster or writing a song that people can sing, [or] coming up with a chant. Let me tell you, I have no skills in that realm. I cannot make a chant. I can barely keep up with the chant. Making a sign truly stresses me out. Love art, hate making it. And so, I think in a moment like this, it’s really important to think about those intersections and ways that especially artists are so essential. Artists, by virtue, tackle the things that are unknown more so than other people, you know? Every time that you start a new poem, a new essay, a new song, you’re starting with mostly a blank slate. And the only thing that colors that slate is what we’ve learned in the past, what we’ve listened to in the past, what we’ve digested in the past and how it has impacted us. And having to go toe to toe with an archive, having to go toe to toe with your peers, and still come out with the thing that you want to see? That’s activism. And that principle is a key tenet of activism. I think that there are a lot of ways that we have to reconsider that type of thinking, because activism is an imaginative practice. If you think about a song like “We Shall Overcome,” it is like the most incredible futurist gesture because you don’t know, you know? In a moment like this one, we are so unsure about everything. I was out in Fort Greene Park yesterday, and some of the organizers were saying the names of people who were slain by the police. And as everything came up, there was part of me that just kept thinking, What would my name sound like in this group? That’s how close it feels for so many of us. And it’s an unshakable fear. So to have creative thinking as not only a buffer — because sometimes you can just enjoy art and there’s nothing wrong with that — but also as a practice or a framework so that we can elevate above this terrestrial bullshit, is so essential. 

To hear more about Drew’s quarantine activities, how she recharges in the midst of the current social revolution, and her new book, watch the full video now, both above and on Instagram.

This Is What Kimberly Drew Knows About Art and Activism