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Maureen Catbagan’s Dark Matter (2020) photography series invites us into sensing brownness. In these images of museum passages and stairwells, silhouettes of museum guards, and evocative shadows, Catbagan presents the landscape of the museum. However, this may not be immediately recognizable because the photographs draw focus to the parts of museums to which we rarely pay attention. In particular, Catbagan’s attention to the presence of guards allows us to perceive dynamics of racialized and gendered labor and laborers who, in an echo of their architectural focus on minor, peripheral spaces and shadows, hover between the underrecognized and oft-neglected, thereby allowing viewers to sense the ways that the modern museum has acted as an instrument of discipline and racial hierarchization.Often these places, this labor, and these laborers are described as invisible, but this is not actually true. This visibility comes down to a question of valuation. In this way, Catbagan reminds us that our experience of art, museums, and even knowledge production more broadly is framed by work, people, and spaces that are often marginalized.


This article was originally published in Afterimage: The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism, available at



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