Twenty-five-year-old Kimberly Drew is one of the art world's rising new tastemakers, specifically because her work is centered on dismantling the art world's old gates. In July, Drew was named online community producer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She manages content across the Met's Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts, digital portals that serve as accessible windows to the museum's collection and exhibitions. In other words, Drew gives an art education every day.
Before building community relations at the Met, Drew gained world-renowned status directing two influential Internet art channels: @MuseumMammy, her personal Instagram, which has over 82,000 followers, and the Black Contemporary Art Tumblr, one of the most comprehensive collections of black art online. Drew's meticulous curation of Black Contemporary Art has solidified the site as a digital, living museum, recording influential black artists around the world. Curators, art administrators, and enthusiasts alike look to Drew's forward-thinking Internet projects, which are on pace to restructure the whiteness inherent to the contemporary-art canon.
In both URL and IRL, Drew's work centers on the complicated intersection between race, tech, and art. In our conversation below, Drew and I talk about what it means to be a black citizen in a supposedly borderless Internet landscape, the black technologists turning the hacking community on its head, and the anxiety that comes with building personal online worlds.
Doreen St. Félix: Being black creatives who work on the Internet, it felt like you and I were bound to connect. I want to start our conversation by asking you about another black creative — our mutual friend and collaborator Jenna Wortham, tech's most visionary writer. Are you two working together?
Kimberly Drew: Jenna and I met on the Internet, of course. Now we're thinking about how to work together on some projects. I value her perspective as a person thinking about technology in a creative way, a very introspective way, because it's so easy to get out of touch in these conversations. For example, the Internet was made for English-speaking white people. Period. No one critiques that. Twitter only just adopted the ñ. If you write a hashtag, it now "sees" the ñ. There's so many languages, there are other characters like that where you just simply could not communicate on the platform effectively because your language doesn't apply. That's fucked up. Mark Zuckerberg wants everyone in the universe to have Internet, but the Internet's not for them.
DSF: I experience that often with my last name. People ignore the accent as if it were an accessory, as opposed to a different letter. And you came to that realization organically, about the Internet forcing all language to English standards. Were there people or texts that complicated that understanding?
KD: It's in two parts. It happened organically, talking to other friends, because I like to talk to people about their first experience with technology. Also talking to people about the privilege of accessing Internet. People say, "Yeah, we had a computer," or like, "Yeah, I had a Xanga page." My family had a computer. I've been on the computer since I was six. For me, I had this moment of awakening. "Not everybody has this very saturated experience with technology." There's a lot of research on the early years of the Internet and the digital divide. It wasn't until the early 2000s, according to the Pew Research Center, that many black people across the world gained Internet. Mozilla, not adequate for some reason, built a browser specifically for black people called Blackbird.
DSF: Tailored to make the Internet useful for black people? Like the apparent logic behind black-targeted websites, Black Planet for example, expanded in a universal browser?