Visual arts

The Smithsonian curator has roots in the Dayton area

Luckily for us, the museum’s acting chief curator of visual arts has local connections. Tulzia Fleming graduated in 1990 from Yellow Springs High School whose first full-time job was at the Dayton Art Institute as Associate Curator of American Art. At DAI, she curated two of our museum’s popular exhibits: “Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Glass” and “Monet and the Age of American Impressionism.”

Fleming recently made headlines as lead curator of the Washington museum’s exhibit, “Reckoning: Protest. Challenge. Resilience”, which opened its doors in September. The exhibit, located in the new Visual Art and the American Experience Gallery, documents the struggle black Americans have faced in their quest to enjoy the fundamental rights and freedoms promised in the Constitution as citizens of the United States.

“I want visitors to this exhibit to experience the variety of ways African American artists have expressed their concerns about social justice in our country,” Fleming said. “I would also like them to understand that black artists are not only witnesses to these injustices, but also activists in the fight to improve the lives of all people in this country. Finally, I hope visitors will see these issues through the lens of the artist and be called upon to take action to make our society a better place.

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Tulzia Fleming is the lead curator of the exhibition “Reckoning: Protest. Challenge. Resilience,” now open at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington in September. PHOTO/NMAAHC

Credit: Smithsonian Institution, Nationa

Tulzia Fleming is the lead curator of the exhibition “Reckoning: Protest.  Challenge.  Resilience,” now open at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington in September.  PHOTO/NMAAHC

Credit: Smithsonian Institution, Nationa

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Tulzia Fleming is the lead curator of the exhibition “Reckoning: Protest. Challenge. Resilience,” now open at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington in September. PHOTO/NMAAHC

Credit: Smithsonian Institution, Nationa

Credit: Smithsonian Institution, Nationa

One of his most striking works of art is a portrait of Breonna Taylor, the black medical worker who was fatally shot in her apartment by Louisville police officers in 2020. The portrait, which features Taylor in a flowing blue dress, was painted by renowned artist Amy Sherald, who also painted the official portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama. You may have seen the portrait on the cover of “Vanity Fair” magazine. In this exhibition, he is surrounded by 27 newly exhibited images and artworks by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sheila Pree Bright, Bisa Butler, Shaun Leonardo, David Hammons and others.

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“I will prepare a place for you” portrait of Harriet Tubman by Bisa Butler. PHOTO/COLLECTION OF THE SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURAL, PURCHASED BY THE AMERICAN WOMEN’S HISTORY INITIATIVE ACQUISITIONS POOL, ADMINISTERED BY THE SMITHSONIAN AMERICAN WOMEN’S HISTORY INITIATIVE, © BISA BUTLER

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“I will prepare a place for you” portrait of Harriet Tubman by Bisa Butler. PHOTO/COLLECTION OF THE SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURAL, PURCHASED BY THE AMERICAN WOMEN’S HISTORY INITIATIVE ACQUISITIONS POOL, ADMINISTERED BY THE SMITHSONIAN AMERICAN WOMEN’S HISTORY INITIATIVE, © BISA BUTLER

Fleming says she wants to make visitors aware of how many years black artists have been engaged in this type of endeavor. “It didn’t just happen now,” she adds. “They’ve been doing this for 100 years!”

“The exhibit seeks to make connections between Black Lives Matter protests, racial violence, grief and mourning, hope and change,” Fleming said when first showing the new exhibit to the public. “Furthermore, it reveals that many African-American artists feel they have more at stake than being included in the canon of American art.” The exhibit also talks about the role of women, how women have been active and overcome social justice issues in this country.

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If you would like to visit the exhibit virtually, Fleming can show you around. You can access it at

https://youtu.be/WT9u0XaMMHA

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‘Say Her Name’ protest, artist Janelle Monae and members of Wondaland Records perform the protest song ‘Hell You Talmbout’, Atlanta. GEORGIA. is exhibited in “Reckoning: Protest. Challenge. Resilience.” PHOTO/ COLLECTION OF THE SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE, GIFT OF SHEILA PREE BRIGHT, © SHEILA PREE BRIGHT

Expression
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‘Say Her Name’ protest, artist Janelle Monae and members of Wondaland Records perform the protest song ‘Hell You Talmbout’, Atlanta. GEORGIA. is exhibited in “Reckoning: Protest. Challenge. Resilience.” PHOTO/ COLLECTION OF THE SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE, GIFT OF SHEILA PREE BRIGHT, © SHEILA PREE BRIGHT

A family business

If her last name rings a bell, it might be because Fleming is the daughter of Barbara and John Fleming of Yellow Springs. His father is well known in the world of museums. He is a founding director of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center at Wilberforce and was director of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center. He also served as vice president of museums at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal and directed the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville.

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Born in Washington, Tulzia moved to Columbus with her family and later to Yellow Springs. “I loved making art as a kid and my parents always took me to museums and collected art from African Americans,” she says. “My parents used to take me to Columbus College of Art and Design for weekend programs for kids. ”

Watching his father develop a museum gave him an appreciation and insight into the role of curator as well as an appreciation for black history and culture. “At that time, most museums didn’t collect this kind of art,” she recalls. “Recently art museums have made a concerted effort to collect in this area. I wanted to make a difference and change the art world.”

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Tulzia Fleming is pictured with her father, John, at the Galleria Nationale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome. PHOTO/CONTRIBUTE

Tulzia Fleming is pictured with her father, John, at the Galleria Nationale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome.  PHOTO/CONTRIBUTE
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Tulzia Fleming is pictured with her father, John, at the Galleria Nationale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome. PHOTO/CONTRIBUTE

Fleming, who obviously loves what she does, says the role of the curator is to oversee the permanent collection exhibits, care for the collections and help acquire works of art. Her work also includes research, writing and public speaking. “It’s gratifying to be in a field where I enjoy working and where I have a strong appreciation for art and art history,” she says. “I think as a curator you are always moving in new directions and discovering different artists. For me, it’s a great career. »

She feels lucky to work at the prestigious museum which opened in 2016 and has welcomed more than 7.5 million visitors in person as well as millions through its digital presence. Since joining the staff, Fleming has played a vital role in building the museum’s art collection, which consisted of just two works of art when she was first hired in 2007. She suggested creating an entire gallery in the museum focused on the artworks. She worked on the inaugural exhibition “Visual Art and the American Experience” and has also been published extensively.

The good news is that an online searchable museum has just been added to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which will eventually allow us to view all of the museum’s exhibits online. The first virtual exhibit, which includes first-person accounts and artifacts, is titled “Slavery and Freedom.” It begins in the 14th century and ends with the Civil War and Reconstruction.

“It’s really special,” Fleming says of the museum. “It gives viewers the opportunity to learn more about how historical moments, characters, and other aspects of the African-American experience are central and essential to the history and culture of our country. This is information that you otherwise could not get in a day.

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“March” by Charles Henry Alston. PHOTO/COLLECTION OF THE SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE, GIFT OF SYDNEY SMITH GORDON, © CHARLES ALSTON ESTATE

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“March” by Charles Henry Alston. PHOTO/COLLECTION OF THE SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE, GIFT OF SYDNEY SMITH GORDON, © CHARLES ALSTON ESTATE

Fleming advises parents of young children to read books about black history and culture, visit museums, watch historically accurate movies, and play quizzes focusing on African American history.

She says all Americans can honor Black History Month by learning about the history of African Americans in this country through books and museums. “They can recognize the difficult issues African Americans have faced because of their race and commit to improving those issues through personal action. They can also celebrate the important contributions African Americans have made to the country and the world.


SPECIAL COVERAGE: This is part of a series of Life & Arts stories celebrating Black History Month.

January 30, 2022: ‘Black Lives Matter II’ ranges from everyday life to protest

HOW TO GET THERE:

Direction DC? Admission to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is free, but free timed passes are required for entry and a limited number are available. Visitors can book timed passes online. An individual can reserve up to six timed passes for their visit.

In the meantime, you can check out the new Searchable Museum website which is free and does not require registration or registration to use. https://www.searchablemuseum.com/

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Tulzia Fleming is the lead curator of the exhibition “Reckoning: Protest. Challenge. Resilience,” now open at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington in September. PHOTO/NMAAHC

Credit: Smithsonian Institution, Nationa

Tulzia Fleming is the lead curator of the exhibition “Reckoning: Protest.  Challenge.  Resilience,” now open at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington in September.  PHOTO/NMAAHC

Credit: Smithsonian Institution, Nationa

callout arrowLegend

Tulzia Fleming is the lead curator of the exhibition “Reckoning: Protest. Challenge. Resilience,” now open at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington in September. PHOTO/NMAAHC

Credit: Smithsonian Institution, Nationa

Credit: Smithsonian Institution, Nationa