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Aasama Walton Black Art Library
Photography Sarah Fleming

Inside the Black Art Library, a vital resource growing in Detroit

Asmaa Walton is making rare, overlooked, and excluded Black art accessible to the internet generation, with gems including photographs of everyday life in Harlem to the first US art exhibition dedicated to Black artists

We learn to read by looking at pictures. Our earliest books are filled with spellbinding images of the world, stories that teach us about who we are. But as we grow older we are taught to put such “childish” things aside despite the insights reading images can provide. In time, many grow turned off by books, due in no small part to the parochial texts foist upon us in school. Few rediscover the meditative pleasures of picture books; the high price point and niche subject matter rendering countless art books into obscurity every year. But with the creation of the Black Art Library, art educator Asmaa Walton is making illustrated books accessible to a generation raised on the internet.

Acknowledging her short attention span made it difficult to read long texts, Walton was drawn to the beautiful images that drew her in, keeping her focused and engaged with texts for longer periods of time. After sharing her Amazon wish list with close friends, Walton’s art book collection began to take shape. In December 2019, the Black Art Library emerged as Walton began to share some of her favourite books on Instagram.

“I always think about ways I can share the knowledge I have on Black Art and make it interesting,” Walton says. As the new HBO documentary, Black Art: In the Absence of Light, reveals, the art world has excluded Black artists from the canon for hundreds of years. For every Gordon Parks, Jacob Lawrence, or Romare Bearden, far too many others have gone unrecognised, their contributions relegated to a footnote or wholly erased from the conversation. It is only since the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement and the 2016 US Presidential election that a Black Art Moment began to take shape as museums and galleries scrambled to fill the voids in their collections.

With the new exhibition, The Black Art Library, Walton fills an important void, sourcing landmark monographs, exhibition catalogues, and rare research materials that the public can peruse at their leisure in her hometown of Detroit. In a time of social isolation, the book can create an intimate connection with someone you may otherwise never meet. Here, Walton shares her thoughts on just a handful of the books included in the Black Art Library.

The Black Art Library is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit through April 18 2021