A living archive aims to cast a rare spotlight on Black artists and their existing works.
Created in February 2020 by independent curator Asmaa Walton, the Black Art Library was born from Walton’s desire to create a viable means for communities to engage with the rich legacy of Black art, aesthetics, and history.
To spread the word, the collection of global Black creativity has become a traveling museum exhibition and interactive installation, not just displayed in Michigan but across the country. Walton’s growing collection includes artist monographs, exhibition catalogs, children’s books, artist memoirs, artist biographies, art history texts, and other art-related ephemera. Currently, she has 500 books that highlight a mix of artists, such as Romare Bearden, Beauford Delaney, Kara Walker, Betye Saar, and more. She also has a few books on Detroit’s Tyree Guyton.
“I’ve also been trying to collect books on artists that people have never really learned about, artists that really didn’t get that spotlight that they deserved,” Walton told The Detroit News.
“A lot of those artists aren’t living anymore, so the books that exist may be the only books that will be made about them. I’ve wanted to be able to highlight those artists.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to just focus on Black artists from Detroit just because there just aren’t enough of those books that exist,” Walton said. “That’s why I knew I had to expand it, though I knew I wanted the project to be based here. A lot of these books — they don’t exist yet. Now, more of them are being made about Black artists, especially Black artists working now.”
The Detroit native is an art education graduate of Michigan State University, also holding a master’s degree in Arts Politics. Her experience in art museums led her to create a collection of books that isn’t just about artists everyone has heard of. With hopes of driving change one book at a time, Walton considers why museums and galleries have contributed to the Black artists not receiving the recognition they deserved.
“When the big museums and the galleries aren’t talking about these Black artists, no one really cares about them,” she said. “…The art world depends on that buzz. If no one is going to see your shows or [is] reviewing your work, it doesn’t really matter. I think that’s what held back a lot of Black artists.”
Walton looks forward to opening up a permanent space for her collection for the community to interact with personally. Due to the rarity of the books, books are not available to be lent out.
“Until I have my own space, I think it’s a really good idea to be able to travel [with] the collection to other places, to other communities, so more people can see it and engage with it,” she said.
In 2022, the Black Art Library will be on display in Texas, first at a gallery in San Antonio and then at a Houston library.