ART, DETROIT, FEATURE STORY

Asmaa Walton’s ‘Black Art Library’ Now Open at MOCAD

If you love hanging out at bookstores and libraries, then you may enjoy MOCAD’s latest art exhibition called the Black Art Library. Curated by art educator Asmaa Walton, the art exhibit features a lovely collection of books dedicated to Black art. 

Over the weekend, I took my daughter Zhen with me to view the exhibit. We enjoyed browsing through the books and discovering artists who were new to us. I also came across literature on artists whose work I love, such as famous Black photographer and photo journalist Gordon Parks. 

Black Art Library featuring the autobiography of Gordon Parks, Voices in the Mirror.
Black Art Library Detroit art exhibit now open at MOCAD.

WHAT IS THE BLACK ART LIBRARY?

In February 2020, Detroit native Asmaa Walton created the Black Art Library. Noticing Black art was not being featured as much in art museums, she wanted to bring more awareness to Black artists. She started collecting books about Black art from various art types and time periods and shared her discoveries on Instagram.

In the exhibit, you will find Black art literature such as artist memoirs, art history books, exhibition catalogs, photography books, and more! Asmaa even included children’s books on Black art in the library collection.

During our visit at MOCAD, Zhen was excited to see the bookshelf dedicated to art literature for kids. She asked me if she could check out one of the books to take home and read. I, of course, explained to her the children’s books had to stay at the art museum so other kids could come to enjoy the collection. But I promised her we could try and find similar art books at our local library

Zhen reading a children's art book at the Black Art Library exhibition in Detroit.
Children's art books depicting Black art at the MOCAD in Detroit.

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AN INTERACTIVE ART EXHIBIT

What makes the Black Art Library exhibit unique is it’s interactive and you can select a book from the shelves to look through them. Table and chairs are available for visitors to sit and read through the books.

Once you are finished reading, you return the items to a separate library cart. This way the books can be quarantined for a day and then returned to the main bookshelves.

Black Art Library Exhibition at MOCAD
Gordon Parks American Gothic photograph. Black Art Library Exhibit at MOCAD in Detroit

“The Black Art Library was created in February 2020 by independent curator Asmaa Walton. A Detroit native, Walton felt the need to create a tactile means for communities to engage with Black Artists and Black Art history. This collection includes artist monographs, exhibition catalogs, children’s books, artist memoirs, artist biographies art history texts, and other art-related ephemera. As a mobile collection and interactive installation, Black Art Library provides a platform for community accessibility and engagement with the rich legacy of Black art, aesthetics, and history.”

Black Art Library Exhibition Description at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit
Photo of photographer Gordon Parks with Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks from the Gordon Parks autobiography. Featured at the Black Art Library in Detroit.
Black Art Library sign on a table at the MOCAD in Detroit.
Gordon Parks autobiography at the Black Art Library in Detroit
Black Art Library book collection at MOCAD in Detroit

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BLACK ART LIBRARY FUNDRAISER

Asmaa is also working on opening a brick and mortar location for Black Art Library in Detroit. It will be a place open to the public where people can come inside to browse art literature selections. Guests will then be able to sit and enjoy reading the materials at the library. 

In a newsletter featured on her site, Asmaa explains why she is passionate about establishing a physical space for the Black Art Library. She writes, “This is a project that needs to come to fruition sooner rather than later. I need to focus on making this space a reality because my community deserves it.” 

We would love to see this happen for Detroit! Years ago, when we started homeschooling, I decided to make African American History one of the main subjects we study throughout the year. We plan on visiting the Black Art Library at MOCAD a few more times for our African American History lessons.

However, if Asmaa is able to open a location for the Black Art Library, then our family can continue to visit and benefit from the literature she collects. A physical space for the library will also create more enriching educational opportunities for other adults and youth in the Detroit area.

So far, Asmaa has raised close to $11,000 of her $35,000 goal! You can click here to make a donation to the Black Art Library if you like.

Also, check out the Zoom artist discussion Asmaa did with MOCAD. In the video, she talks more about the Black Art Library and the importance of creating this library for Detroit and beyond.

You can connect with Asmaa on her official Instagram where she shares frequent updates about her work.

Black Art Library Exhibition: Zhen reading an art book at the Black Art Library exhibit at MOCAD.

The Black Art Library exhibition at MOCAD is now open and ends April 18, 2021. It’s a kid-friendly exhibit if you would like to bring your children, too. Click here to read MOCAD’s COVID and visitor policies. Follow the Black Art Library on Instagram here for the latest updates!


Photos from the MOCAD Black Art Library Exhibit are courtesy of Jennifer Hamra for Good Life Detroit.

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