Kwaku Osei, former Program Coordinator (Security) at the Nasher Museum, is a first generation Ghanaian American who grew up in the greater Philadelphia area. He managed security at the Nasher Museum for a year, until August 2019. He came to the museum with security and teaching experience, most recently at Aspira, Inc., in Pennsylvania, where he was an instructional assistant. He was a teacher’s aide at the Boys and Girls Club in Ambler, PA. He also brings a love of art, and he is an artist himself. Kwaku earned a bachelor’s degree from Temple University and went on to the Maryland Institute College of Art, where he earned a master of fine arts degree in painting and graphic design. He lives in Durham with his wife, Afua Osei.
For the past nine years, you have managed your own career as a visual artist. How does that experience as an artist help you in your role as head of security for the museum?
For me, being an artist requires a lot of dedication to my craft and to the art community at large. I have found that it is imperative to foster a myriad of relationships. Those relationships have been my foundation and I try my best to manage them with care. I believe this approach is applicable to my role as a security manager. I find great value in the people I work with because I genuinely care about their wellbeing. That is something that I’ve specifically learned through my art practice because my art is about people.
Is museum etiquette universally known or does it need to be taught?
Museum etiquette is not universally known, in my opinion. The culture of museums, in general, seems to be changing, but I still have friends, family members and colleagues who view museums as institutions for the elite. I think those sorts of perceptions unnerve the public from acknowledging museum etiquette. They are less inclined to immerse themselves in the experience due to their own misguided ideas about museum culture. I’m not sure if it should be taught, but I do think it is an intriguing idea for museums to offer a class or a workshop that informs the public on museum etiquette.
What is your favorite project at the Nasher Museum right now?
I’m excited about revamping our training and recruiting. I’m hoping to get more artists, art historians and art enthusiasts on board. The benefits of spending time with art are endless. Just by watching how visitors interact with the art, what they’re most drawn to, one can pick up on curatorial nuances. Elements like lighting, spatial composition/relational aesthetics, color choices, semiotics, mark making techniques and material science become more apparent the more time you spend in the galleries. I absolutely understand why the work of artists like Fred Wilson, Sol LeWitt or even Robert Ryman benefited immensely from their experiences as museum security guards. Through remodeling our training and recruiting, I hope to help my current and future staff realize what a great opportunity it is to work on the front line team.
Tell us about some of your recent world travels!
I recently went to Costa Rica with my wife. It’s such a beautiful country! I love to travel and what I found most interesting in this particular case was how the locals I talked to handled their experience with post-colonialism. I’m Ghanaian American and I’ve been to Ghana several times, so I’m constantly trying to crack the multifaceted nature of colonial residue and its effects on Indigenous people. When I went to Costa Rica, it seemed to me that many of the locals were content with the idea of submitting themselves to Western and modern norms. In Ghana, my experience has been different; their resistance to Western ideology is more distinct. I found that contrast interesting, especially with regard to certain languages and their social stratum.
What is your favorite exhibition that you’ve seen in the past year, in all of your travels?
This may be a little biased, but I would say John Akomfrah’s Precarity at the Nasher really did it for me for so many reasons. From his epistemological critique of history and storytelling to his particular choices of material and color, John Amkomfrah’s system of symbols created a rare and mesmerizing climate that was subliminally familiar. That dude is a genius.