The Cheeky Curator: Pakistani American Asma Naeem Named Director of Baltimore Museum of Art
- The Karachi-born former criminal prosecutor becomes the first person of color to lead the museum in its 109-year-long history.
The Baltimore Museum of Art has named Pakistani American Asma Naeem as its new director. She becomes the first person of color to lead the museum in its 109-year-long history. She replaces Christopher Bedford, who last year departed for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Pakistan-born Naeem joined the museum in 2018 as its chief curator and has organized several shows there including last year’s Salman Toor survey. She is currently curating “The Culture: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century,” which will open in April.
“As we move forward, there is an incredible opportunity to bring a greater depth of local and global voices into the dialogues about the history and evolution of art, about museums as community spaces, and about the relationship between internal culture to external experience—and in doing so create meaningful change in the field,” Naeem said in a statement. “I am looking forward to working with the exceptional team here and with our many current and future collaborators.”
As a curator, Naeem displayed a sense of humor. In a feature on her last September, The Baltimore Banner wrote: “When Asma Naeem learned that then President Donald Trump’s portrait would be hung in the National Portrait Gallery, she knew she wanted to do something to counter the optics it created. So she placed a portrait of one of Baltimore’s most well-known native sons, the late rapper Tupac Shakur, directly across from it.” Cheeky.
Before the Baltimore Museum, Naeem had been at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., and prior to that had been a practicing lawyer, working in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office as a criminal prosecutor, and at the Office of Bar Counsel in Washington, D.C.
In a March 2, 2022 interview, she told More Art that she “wanted to be a public servant, so she pursued a career in law thinking she could move the needle of progress from within.” However, after a few years of this work, she realized that “the system was too broken to be changed, and the emotional toll was too overwhelming.” Every day working as a lawyer was “pushing against the moral fiber of my being,” she said.
She told the magazine that despite her shift from law to art history, “which had been an early passion, the through line between the occupations is public service.” She continued: “Though I have moved from the criminal justice system into the art and culture sphere, my role is to connect to the public, strengthening the understanding of our differences and how we relate to one another.”