Baltimore Museum of Art names first person of color as new director

Published on: January 24, 2023 6:28 PM EST|Updated on: January 24, 2023 7:02 PM EST

Asma Naeem, The Eddie C. and C. Sylvia Brown Chief Curator, sits in her office at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Our nonprofit news organization is made possible by subscribers and donors who value storytelling that impacts and uplifts communities. Thank you for supporting our journalism.

The Baltimore Museum of Art announced Tuesday that after several months as interim co-director, Asma Naeem will become the new director of the institution.

Naeem, who has also served as the Eddie C. and C. Sylvia Brown chief curator at the museum since 2018, will become the first person of color to lead BMA when her appointment begins Feb. 1.

Naeem will be responsible for leading the museum’s strategic direction as well as overseeing management of the permanent collection and exhibition schedule. During her tenure as curator and interim co-director, she has championed works by underrepresented artists within the collection.

“Her dedication to this effort and her distinct perspective on how we can continue to create change made her the ideal choice to lead the BMA into the future,” James D. Thornton, chair of the board of trustees at the BMA, said in a news release.

While at the BMA, Naeem, with her colleague Leslie Cozzi, edited a scholarly survey on the life and work of artist Valerie Maynard. She’s also curating the upcoming exhibition on the history of hip-hop, which will open in April.

“I am committed to reaching more of the city’s residents, to creating an inclusive, dynamic environment that welcomes everyone in Baltimore, especially those who have not felt welcomed in the past,” Naeem said Tuesday in a statement to The Baltimore Banner. She was not available for an interview.

Thelma Golden, curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, said in the news release that Naeem “is a thoughtful and innovative scholar, whose personal mission has been to bring forward and uplift the voices of artists who have traditionally been overlooked and understudied.”

The BMA recently acquired 162 new pieces for their collection, including historic and contemporary works. In a press release announcing the new acquisitions, Naeem said that she was grateful for the “work of our curatorial team in advocating for voices and objects that have long deserved institutional and scholarly recognition as well as for identifying new and emerging talents, in Baltimore and across the country and the globe.”

Naeem, whose family immigrated to the United States from Pakistan when she was 2 years old, started her career as a prosecutor in Manhattan and investigated attorney misconduct in Washington, D.C. While in D.C., she completed a masters in art history at American University, and then earned a doctorate in art history from the University of Maryland.

After graduating, Naeem worked as a curator at D.C.’s National Gallery of Art and the National Portrait Gallery.

Naeem told The Banner in September that even during her time as a lawyer, she visited museums in her free time. “I was finding nourishment in art — seeking it as a refuge,” she said.

Sign Up for Alerts
Get notified of need-to-know
info from The Banner