Madeleine Haddon Is the Hispanic Society’s First Black Curator and Seeks To Rethink Cultural Identity Through Art

Madeleine Haddon BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of BELatina/@hispanic_society

Being “the first” in any industry is an honor and a responsibility. This is something Madeleine Haddon, the Hispanic Society’s first black curator, understands firsthand.

Knowing that the hegemony of the conqueror often dictates historical narratives, Haddon has decided to reframe the identity process through never-before-seen pieces of art.

In collaboration with the Hispanic Society Museum and Library in Washington Heights, Haddon has put long-hidden art pieces into context in the exhibition “Nuestra Casa.”

It is a curatorial survey of more than 700,000 works that have dozed in the museum’s vaults since it opened in 1904.

“Narratives that are told through art, and through paint, in particular, are really critical in thinking about how we think about our cultural and racial identity today,” Haddon told CBS, explaining why the exhibition opens with José Agustín Arrieta’s painting “Young Man of the Coast.”

“It was absolutely important to me that this Black man is the first thing that you see when you walk into this show, to counter so much of that,” Haddon said, and that curatorial decision is not without background knowledge.

Madeleine Haddon received her Ph.D. from Princeton University. Her dissertation, “Local Color: Race, Gender, and Spanishness in European Painting, 1855-1927,” focused on the preoccupation with race and color in 19th- and early 20th-century Spanish, French, and American painting.

Now, at the helm of an ambitious and fantastic project, Haddon recontextualizes an artistic, literary, and historical panorama of the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America from antiquity to the modern age. 

The curator undertakes a reexamination of several works in the collection that have been historically defined as its “masterpieces.” As the Hispanic Society’s website explains, this reconsideration is critical given our current moment: “it is now more necessary than ever that our traditional historical and aesthetic hierarchies to be reassessed in order to make way for a new art history that fully incorporates the diverse populations to whom our public institutions belong.”

Through this new lens, Haddon and “Nuestra Casa” demonstrate that the HSM&L’s collections go far beyond the work of El Greco, Goya, and Sorolla; alongside masterpieces in a variety of media, the exhibition will feature works by many lesser-known artists whom the museum invites visitors to discover for themselves.

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