Kimberly Drew: a voice for the future

The writer, curator and activist speaks about equity - and Solange Knowles


Writer, curator and activist Kimberly Drew is passionate about inclusion, equality and art. If you want to know what she’s all about, she says it succinctly and often Twitter and Instagram.

A born communicator, Drew doesn’t mince her words. “I am interested in promoting black, queer, disabled, and/or otherwise marginalised artists... it’s not a struggle, it’s an honour to share the work of these artists,” she writes.

Drew launched the Tumblr blog Black Contemporary Art while working as an intern at the The Studio Museum in Harlem – and it continues to showcase black artists, past and present, to a wider audience.

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Drew’s resourcefulness did not go unnoticed. New York’s Met Museum snapped up the 27-year-old three years ago to lead their social media department. Under her direction, it has become more than just a marketing tool. Now, it engages its audience creatively, draws them in and keeps them hooked.

Most recently, Kimberly (never call her Kim) has joined the Mercedes-Benz #mbcollective, a group that includes Kenzo designers Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist (currently in charge of London’s Serpentine Galleries), Hypebeast founder Kevin Ma, writer/model Slick Woods and musician Solange Knowles.

Each member of the group is a creative influencer - and they are united in a vision for the future which echoes that of the Mercedes-Benz EQ, the brand’s breakthrough SUV concept car which challenges the future of conventional combustion engine-powered models.

Mercedez-Benz plans to launch 10 battery-powered, fully-electric and plug-in hybrid models by 2025. So how does that tie in with the world of fashion? The manufacturer is a long-time supporter of fashion initiatives. It supports young talent and sponsors Fashion Weeks around the globe.

Now Mercedes-Benz has made the bold move of embracing more abstract projects as a means of encouraging pro-active behaviour online, focused on making the future a more hopeful, fair, creative and inclusive place.

This includes the #WeWonder Manifesto (follow this on @MercedesBenzFashion), which began in March with a panel discussion on the theme of ‘equity’ led by Drew at the SXSW festival in Austin. It shone a spotlight on the value and responsibility digital influencers have (or should claim) in the current social and political climate.

We caught up with Drew to talk about her part in the #mbcollective and asked her about the art and people that inspire her. Sadly, she’s keeping hush about her plans with Solange Knowles…

For those who missed your seminar for Mercedes-Benz #WeWonder Manifesto, what topics did you cover - and how did you prepare?

As part of the #WeWonder Collective, I led a panel discussion on the topic of equity during the meConvention at SXSW in Austin, Texas. During my panel, I was able to chat with Mama Cax, Christina Mallon and Samantha Barry about social responsibility and our respective work in building a more equitable future. I was looped into the project fairly early – from what I’ve heard. I’m delighted to be a part of this group, which aims to champion some truly stunning ideas about the future. I’m not sure what’s next, but it’s been a wonderful adventure thus far.

We've interviewed Hans Ulrich. Such an interesting man. What did you learn from him?

I am totally in awe of Hans Ulrich’s thoughtfulness and generosity. Before embarking on this project, I’d followed his work, but had no idea how amazing Hans Ulrich truly was. It was super-refreshing to meet such a powerful person who was still so deeply curious about the world. He also taught me a few things about social media, which I have taken very seriously as a think about my work in institutions.

Can you tell us what you and Solange discussed?

I cannot. There are some fun details to come!

The digital landscape is so uncertain and yet so full of possibilities. What do you think our roles are as individuals within it?

Life is uncertain, but I generally think that we should all take responsibility for how we want to be archived. We all need to give a damn. What goals have you set yourself as an artist and influencer/curator? At this stage of my career, I’m dedicating a lot of my energy to making sure that every room that I am in is more and more diverse. That means challenging my peers and extending as many invitations as I can to young people to consider a career in art or fashion.

Which single person has had the most impact on your career and mindset? Can you share some of their wise words?

Thelma Golden [Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem] is one of my biggest heroes. She’s currently fundraising for a new building for The Studio Museum in Harlem. If you’re not familiar with her work, please get familiar. In lieu of wise words, I’d just like to ask that anyone reading this considers making a contribution at any scale to The Studio Museum’s capital campaign.

What have you learned about art history since taking on your role at the Met?

In my short time at The Met I’ve become so deeply obsessed with the Arms and Armour [department] – so nerdy but have you ever seen chain mail?! It’s epic.

Do you think galleries in New York – not museums but privately galleries– are doing enough to encourage a wider demographic of visitors?

When I first arrived to New York, I was short on cash and visiting galleries was a refuge for me because most commercial art galleries do not charge admission fees. I’m not sure that I’d ask galleries to do any specific – which is not say that they should not innovate – but I do think a lot about how to get the word out that commercial art galleries are free.

What are the favourite art pieces that you own, or which ones do you aspire to own?

I have a few amazing drawings by emerging black women artists. I’d love to have a home designed by David Adjaye.

Do you think that social media has allowed you to be more open in your career? What restrictions does it still impose?

For scale, without social media I probably would not have pursued a career in the arts and if I did. I’d be a curatorial assistant for years before I’d even be considered for a more senior role.

What are your favourite fashion labels and what was the last thing you bought?

I do not have a favorite, but I was recently blessed with a pair of Chain Reaction sneakers designed by Salehe Bembury for Versace and I feel like 2Chainz.

Favourite performing artist?

A tie between Lorraine O’Grady and Adrian Piper.

Who you would invite round to a dinner party (alive or dead)?

I’d love to eat from Oprah’s garden.

The last book you read that you loved?

Ways of Curating by Hans Ulrich Obrist.

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