Natasha Becker Joins the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco as the Inaugural Curator of African Art

Natasha Becker. Photograph courtesy of Elisabeth Smolarz (2020)

SAN FRANCISCO — The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (the Museums) are pleased to announce the appointment of Natasha Becker as the inaugural curator of African art. Reporting to the curator in charge of the Museums’ department of the arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, Becker now oversees the Museums’ collection of African art, envisioning new and expansive ways to interpret and present artworks in focused exhibitions and in dialogue with other works of art in the Museums’ collection. 

Born and raised in South Africa, Becker has focused on presenting the work of African artists, African American artists, and artists of the African diaspora. Working in both Cape Town and New York City over the past decade, she has organized numerous exhibitions and international initiatives as an independent curator. Prior to joining the Museums, she served as curator-in-residence at Faction Art Projects in Harlem. Becker is also cofounder of two collaborative curatorial platforms: Assembly Room in New York City and the Underline Show in Johannesburg. 

“The collaborative and innovative underpinnings of Natasha’s curatorial practice, her knowledge and study of art history and African history, and her experience presenting contemporary African art will bring exciting opportunities to the stewardship, interpretation, and development of our collection,” states Christina Hellmich, curator in charge of the arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. “Spanning multiple disciplines, Natasha’s curatorial expertise expands the possibilities for the presentation of African art at the Museums by bringing contemporary conversations to our historical collection.”

Prior to working at Faction Art Projects, Becker served as curatorial adviser at the Face Foundation and co-curator at the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice. She has a track record of promoting artists from Africa, the African diaspora, and the global south, as well as women artists, in addition to centering social justice within the contemporary art dialogue. Perilous Bodies and Radical Love, two group shows held at the Ford Foundation’s new gallery, wove together the perspectives of 42 international artists on issues of justice and liberation.

“This is a time for accountability, for asking real questions, and for transformation in US museums. I believe in the contemporary value of historical collections and the important role of today’s artists in connecting people and leading these conversations,” states Natasha Becker. “I am deeply honored to join with African and African diaspora artists and communities in bringing forward our complex experiences and adding our diverse voices to the de Young’s collections, exhibitions, programs, and scholarship.” 

Becker holds a master’s degree in African history from the University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa, and completed her PhD coursework in art history at Binghamton University, New York. She began her tenure at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco on December 1, 2020.

About the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas
The Museums’ collections of art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas have their origins in the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894 and the establishment of the Memorial Museum in 1895, which showcased contemporary and historic works from around the world that were purchased from the exposition or donated by prominent San Franciscans. This period of global political, economic, and cultural change in the United States and abroad is represented by a small group of compelling and diverse works. In 1970, the department of the arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas was formed, and development of the collections has continued to the present day. Today at the de Young, these broad-ranging holdings are installed in gallery suites specially designed by Herzog & de Meuron for each area of the permanent collection.

The African Art Collection
The Museums’ collection of sub-Saharan African art includes 300 core works, a number of which are considered world-class masterpieces. A distinctive aspect of the collection is the number of rare and unusual works from the past millennium to the mid-20th century that have great visual interest and speak to identity, creativity, and artistic change.

About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, are the largest public arts institution in San Francisco. The de Young originated from the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition in Golden Gate Park and was established as the Memorial Museum in 1895. It was later renamed in honor of Michael H. de Young, who spearheaded its creation. The present copper-clad landmark building, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, opened in October 2005. It holds the institution’s significant collections of American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the 17th to the 21st centuries; art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; costume and textile arts; and international modern and contemporary art.

The Legion of Honor was inspired by the French pavilion at San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 and, like that structure, was modeled after the neoclassical Palais de la Légion d’Honneur, in Paris. The museum, designed by George Applegarth, opened in 1924 on a bluff in Lincoln Park overlooking the Golden Gate. Its holdings span 4,000 years and include European painting, sculpture, and decorative arts; ancient art from the Mediterranean basin; and the largest collection of works on paper in the American West.

Media Contact
Miriam Newcomer / mnewcomer@famsf.org / 310-592-5238