The photos immediately started winning awards, but Ms. Bright found that many white viewers could not get over their own internal stereotypes.
“I was told by a publisher I didn’t have enough signifiers in there to show the work was Black,” she said. A consultant told her, “This looks like my house. There is a bookcase, they read, I don’t see any TVs.” On that bookcase, prominently displayed, was Debra J. Dickerson’s manifesto from 2004, “The End of Blackness: Returning the Souls of Black Folk to Their Rightful Owners.”
Michelle Joan Wilkinson, a curator at the museum, has developed its design and architecture collection since 2016, acquiring urban planning artifacts and photography like Ms. Bright’s. “We wanted to make the focus more explicit,” she said, “telling not just stories about segregation, but stories about the role design plays in African American history, and the role played in architecture by people of African descent.”
The museum has acquired architects’ archives as well as furniture design, with a particular focus on seating from contemporary practitioners like Germane Barnes, Stephen Burks and the museum’s design architect, David Adjaye. A bed from 1840 by Henry Boyd, a Cincinnati carpenter and entrepreneur who patented his own screw-fastening system, is on view, as is “Mr. Muse’s Den,” a padded red vinyl bar that had been installed in a South Side home in the 1970s and used as a speakeasy.
“There may have been a lack of visibility for Black interiors in the broader media, or maybe white mainstream media,” Ms. Wilkinson said, “but that care for interior space has always been there.” The museum acquired the photography archives from Johnson Publishing’s Ebony and Jet magazines, “and in literature there is a really rich representation of Black interior worlds, and you are also seeing that in contemporary art,” she said.