Sharing her perspective on African American art

Starasea Nidiala Camara

Early this year, Starasea Nidiala Camara capitalized on an incredible opportunity—curating an exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) titled “In the Presence of Our Ancestors: Southern Perspectives in African American Art,” which runs through Nov. 28.

Camara is a fourth-year student in the College of Liberal Arts completing an individually designed interdepartmental BA in African Diasporic History and Visual Culture. Her opportunity came via the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, which selects three undergraduate students annually to work at museums across the country, including Mia. Mia recently produced a teacher’s guide to help explain the exhibition’s content to K-12 students across the metro area.

In this Q&A, Camara talks about her experiences with curating the exhibit and the impact it’s had on her career and personal journey.

Talk a little bit about your background in art.

My own studio background is in drawing and painting, but I have experimented with ceramics, glass, and welding in my youth.

How did this opportunity come about for you through the Souls Grown Deep Foundation? 

In my gap year between community college and the U of M, I was working at Mia as a casual in their visitor experience department. When the Souls Grown Deep Foundation internship application opened, I was urged to apply and went for it. The worst thing they could say is no, after all.

Explain the theme of the exhibition and the choice of materials used for the various artworks. 

The exhibition's thematic approach encompasses being able to hold space and reflect with our ancestors, away from other commonly visited halls of the museum. For me it was important to feature the artists' works alongside their photos and narratives—with anecdotes from interviews archived by the foundation—so it could feel like one is listening to their great aunt or uncle tell them a story about how they created something magnificent.

Can you explain why you chose the dark walls, and maybe other aspects of the exhibit or works that someone might not consider at first glance? 

I've only seen a few exhibitions with dark walls before. It is definitely not new, but it feels different and fitting in here. I believe that whatever color palette a curator selects for a show sets the tone for the audience. I wanted people to cross this threshold and come in with respect, and understand that there is an intention set here before you engage with these stories. Yes, it is just one room, but I hope these works, their stories, and the lives behind them will transport the people who engage with them. 

How did the teacher's guide come about? 

This summer I was contacted by Mia's Learning Innovation department and asked if I would be interested in collaborating to develop a teacher's guide for the exhibition. They were very interested in highlighting the exhibition content and making it accessible to K-12 educators across the metro area.

What has this whole experience been like for you?  

It has been really special to have my debut exhibition covered in publications like Architectural Digest, The Magazine ANTIQUES, and the Minnesota Daily. This opportunity has opened doors for me in a way I did not know an internship could. I initially did not know that I would be interviewing to curate directly let alone lead an entire exhibition. I did not know I would have the opportunity to share space with so many beautiful souls that have impacted me as a professional and as a person.

What are your plans for the future? 

I am currently a fellow with the Emerging Curators Institute, and working on my next project coming in 2022. Beyond that I look forward to exploring, networking, researching, and learning as much as I can, and I'm prioritizing self-care.