Naima J. Keith
This site is an archive for curatorial projects, critical writing, publications, interviews, and lectures.
Naima J. Keith is a curator deeply committed to producing timely exhibitions, advocating for artists and institutions, thinking critically, and developing ideas that are central to our time. Through her work with the Hammer Museum, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and now the California African American Museum, she has come to understand that institutions can evolve to engage more broadly with the multiple, often competing histories that make us who we are. She is dedicated to creating exhibitions that open up dialogues and create spaces in which to see artists as important thinkers, and to see artworks as a way to understand not only art history, but also cultural history. Keith is committed to doing this work, deepening our knowledge of contemporary art of the African Diaspora and securing its place in the canons of modern and contemporary art.
Currently Deputy Director, Exhibitions and Programs at the California African American Museum (CAAM), Naima J. Keith was brought into the newly created position in early 2016 to guide the curatorial and education departments as well as marketing and communications. With waning attendance and low community awareness, Naima restructured the exhibition schedule, redirected the museum’s curatorial focus, initiated an aggressive marketing and social media outreach campaign, modernized the museum’s communications strategy and engaged the community to create greater awareness for the respected institution. Beyond her management responsibilities, Naima has also curated several shows, including Hank Willis Thomas: Black Righteous Space (2016), Genevieve Gaignard: Smell the Roses (2016) Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle: The Evanesced (2017) and Gary Simmons: Fade to Black (2017–8). She was the 2017 recipient of the David C. Driskell Prize in recognition of her contributions to the field of African American art history, and is co-artistic director of Prospect.5 in New Orleans in 2020.
Art was always in Naima’s blood. Both her mother and father are collectors of African American art, and moreover, they appreciated and honored the artists they culled, often taking Naima to museum exhibitions. Even as she made the attempt to study economics in college, Naima was drawn back to her creative instincts, realizing a passion for working with up-and-coming, or under-appreciated African American artists. Maybe it was fate, maybe it was the dichotomy of math vs. art, absolute answers vs. subjective opinion, or maybe the ‘numbers just didn’t add up,’ but Naima went on to earn a Bachelor’s in Art History from Spelman College, and a Masters in Contemporary Art at UCLA.
Prior to joining CAAM, Naima was an Associate Curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem from 2011-2016, conceiving and executing both loan and permanent collection exhibitions: Rodney McMillian: Views on Main Street (2016), Artists in Residence 2014-2015 (2015), Samuel Levi Jones: Unbound (2015), Kianja Strobert (2014), Titus Kaphar (2014), Glenn Kaino (2014) and Robert Pruitt (2013), The Shadows Took Shape (co-curated with Zoe Whitley, 2013), Fore (co-curated with Lauren Haynes and Thomas J. Lax, 2012), and many more. Her historical survey, Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974 - 1989 (2014), traveled to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, CA spring 2015. The exhibition was nominated in 2014 for a "Best Monographic Museum Show in New York" award by the International Association of Art Critics (AICA-USA). Between 2008-2011, Naima worked as a Curatorial Fellow at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, serving as the primary contact for internal and external constituencies pertaining to the groundbreaking exhibition Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980, organized by guest Curator Kellie Jones, among multiple other operational and creative responsibilities.
She has lectured at the Zoma Contemporary Art Center, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Columbia University; The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA); Brooklyn Museum; LACMA; MCA Denver and many more. In 2016, she delivered the USC Roski School of Art and Design commemencement address. Her essays have been featured in publications for The Studio Museum in Harlem, Hammer Museum, Perez Art Museum Miami, LAXART, MoMA PS1, and NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art.
Contrary to popular belief, Naima does find time for life beyond her work, and prefers not to sleep in the museum … at least, not every night. She makes her home in Los Angeles with her husband, 3 - year - old daughter, and 4 months old son relishing the opportunity to expose them to the same culture, history and art from their own childhood. When she’s not indulging in interior design books, Naima loves to travel every chance she gets and maintains an ongoing mission for the best French Fries in the world, making sure to sample the delicacy in every city she’s in. Admittedly, when she finds them, she’ll probably continue the investigation just to be certain.