Emma Chubb '06 Expands Access to Contemporary Art
The Haverford alumna is bringing art from Africa and across the world to the Smith College Museum of Art as the first Curator of Contemporary Art.
It’s mid-September and Emma Chubb ’06, curator of contemporary art at the Smith College Museum of Art (SCMA), is preparing to leave for Morocco. She once lived there for a year, and she’s visited at least a dozen times for a variety of projects, but on this particular trip, she’ll work for two weeks with Moroccan visual artist Younes Rahmoun on his upcoming solo exhibition at Smith, choosing pieces for display at the museum and around campus.
Chubb, whose expertise is in North African and Middle Eastern art, was named the inaugural Charlotte Feng Ford ’83 Curator of Contemporary Art at SCMA in July 2017. In that role, she organizes exhibitions and acquires work for the permanent collection, developed and runs the artist-in-residency program, supervises and mentors students working at the museum, and is a guest speaker at classes on campus.
“I’m the first person to have this position which means I really get to define what it is,” says Chubb, who earned a Ph.D. in art history from Northwestern University. “There was a strong collection when I came in that I’m continuing to grow. Art history and museums for the most part were constructed in a very Eurocentric, white-centric world. Now that I’m inside an institution, I’m able to contribute to changing this status quo, and build a collection more representative of contemporary human creation.”
One priority at an academic museum such as Smith’s “is to make sure that the art we acquire, whether through gifts or purchase, is relevant to the curricular priorities of the college,” she explains. Chubb’s first acquisitions include a painting by American artist Alma Thomas, a sculpture by Lebanese artist Saloua Raouda Choucair, and a cinematic meditation on the life and legacy of Frederick Douglass by British artist Isaac Julien.
The works are relevant, she says, because they expand SCMA’s strengths in 20th century abstraction, contribute to Smith’s recently created Middle East Studies department, and support “faculty who teach courses related to abolition and 19th century liberation movements.”
Chubb, who hails from Pittsburgh, became interested in art after a high school field trip to the Carnegie International exhibition, where she saw works by artists from around the world. “Pittsburgh can be provincial, and this exhibit felt like an invitation into so many different worlds.”
She came to Haverford focused on political science, but after taking classes on Michelangelo, contemporary art, and Northern Renaissance art, declared majors in art history and French. “I embraced the fact that, as a field of study, I cared more about art than political science,” she says. In Chubb’s French classes at Haverford and Bryn Mawr, professors focused on the life and culture of French-speaking nations in Africa, and her interest in Morocco blossomed.
While at Haverford, a summer internship at the Philadelphia Museum of Art exposed her to the inner workings of the modern and contemporary art department. A subsequent internship at the museum exposed her to Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s travels in North Africa. She later wrote a paper in graduate school on Renoir and his time in Algiers.
At Northwestern, her research examined the centrality of migration to contemporary art and nation building in postcolonial Morocco. Before coming to Smith, she consulted for Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar, and contributed to exhibitions in Morocco, Chicago, Paris, and Gwangju.
When it comes to Smith’s contemporary art program, says Chubb, “the world is immense so the goal isn’t to have one of everything, but to be intentional and thoughtful on where we want to build areas of strength. You can bring in a bunch of works but they need to speak to each other.
“We have to ask, ‘What is missing? How do we advance social justice?’ This work is endless. Art is not the only answer but it’s one way to gain some traction.”
Learn more about the Smith College Museum of Art: scma.smith.edu.