Black Art Library is a resource of rare publications highlighting the work of Black artists
Founded by Asmaa Walton, the library and exhibition – on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit – gives access to a wide collection of books on the topic.
- Ayla Angelos
- 1 February 2021
Black Art Library is an exhibition and resource founded by Asmaa Walton in February 2020 after she began compiling a collection of literary works on the topic of Black art and artists. With a particular focus on supporting Black-owned bookstores, the library’s collection celebrates Black artists and their achievements in historical and contemporary art.
At present, the library is home to over 200 books and arranged on a single shelf spanning the length of a gallery wall within the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). Exhibiting from 21 January through to 18 April 2021, the works featured comprise a whole host of niche publications, exhibition catalogues and rare texts, which have been collected and chosen by Asmaa for their educational purposes; the library aims to fill the gaps that mainstream art history and museum collections have continually overlooked. Those involved include American artist and author Romare Bearden; the painter, mixed-media sculptor and writer Faith Ringgold; and various other modern and contemporary artists.
Asmaa is an arts educator and developer of the Black cultural archive. She completed a BA in Fine Arts from Michigan State University in 2017 and, upon graduating with an MA in Art Politics from New York University Tisch School of the Arts in 2018, has since joined Toledo Museum of Art as an education and engagement intern. Later, she was appointed the museum’s first KeyBank fellow in diversity leadership, whereby she worked to identify opportunities to diversify the programming across museums and cultural institutions. After this, Asmaa was appointed Romare Bearden Graduate Museum Fellow at Saint Louis Art Museum; then, in February last year, she launched Black Art Library.
“I am pleased that the library will be on view at MOCAD because it’s an opportunity to begin to share this project with the community,” Asmaa said in a statement announcing the initiative. “These books don’t just belong to me; they belong to all of us. They are a tool for us to continue to learn and spread joy through arts education while attempting to share the full breadth of Black visual art history.”
Alongside the exhibition, there will also be a virtual book club and readings from the collection, taking place both online and in person while adhering to lockdown rules and restrictions. As such, Black Art Library is not merely a resource of sorts, it also serves as a forum for people from all backgrounds to learn about Black artists’ diverse history and practices. The launch follows a pop-up, which initially took place in September 2020 at the 48HR Complex, run my Detroit artist Tony Rave in Highland Park, Michigan. It followed in a similar vein, whereby catalogues, research materials and publications amassed into a collection of rare memorabilia that was shown to a wide audience.
The library is currently in the process of acquiring more books to expand its collection, and has launched a fundraiser to raise funds for a permanent space. Black Art Library will also produce 100 Books, 100 Homes, a resource developed by Detroit Art Week that will source works in the Library’s collection from Black-own bookstores to then distribute to youth in Detroit. More information on this will be announced soon.
Asmaa Walton: Black Art Library. Romare Bearden: The Prevalence of Ritual. Courtesy Black Art Library. (Copyright © Black Art Library)
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.