Art educator Asmaa Walton has amassed an impressive collection, now on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.
One rare find led to the next and, in less than a year, Detroit native and art educator Asmaa Walton had amassed a collection of over 200 texts on Black art, from niche publications to exhibition catalogs. Walton’s Black Art Library was birthed on Instagram, spurred by the desire to fill the gaps she noticed in her own education with respect to Black art.
Walton earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Michigan State University and her master’s from New York University in 2018. From there, she went on to work with the Toledo Museum of Art and as a fellow at the Saint Louis Art Museum.
Still, she says, most of what she’s learned about Black art she taught herself – with the help of Google. “I had an interest, but I couldn’t figure out a way to find that information. And, even in the academic setting, it just wasn’t available,” Walton says. “I wanted to create a resource that other people could use if they were interested in learning a little bit more about Black art.”
Most of the books in Walton’s collection were purchased online from digital bookstores or resell platforms like eBay, and, initially, with her own money. She didn’t have a solid plan, just that if she bought them, something big was bound to take shape. A lot of the curating process felt like a blind exploration, with Walton discovering lost little treasures so obscure she hadn’t even known they existed.
A couple months in, she’d gained a noticeable following on social media, and people started to donate books to the collection. She also launched a GoFundMe campaign in July which raised $10,000 to help buy more books, because, “Art books are extremely expensive,” Walton says.
The Black Art Library also caught the attention of the folks at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, inspiring them to greenlight a new exhibition of the same name that will display Walton’s works in an interactive, reading room setup. Maceo Keeling, curatorial fellow at MOCAD, says the collaboration was an organic one. “It just felt right,” Keeling says.
“In a time when there’s so much conversation about the future of Americans’ cultural framework, it’s often lost on people how rich and robust the history is.” Exhibition guests will be able to browse the texts in a space reminiscent of a library or reference section, having the opportunity to flip through the obvious and the unexpected, with the books themselves being framed as art.
Walton says to also expect virtual panel discussions and other digital programming throughout the exhibition’s run. Many of the Black Art Library’s followers aren’t in Detroit, and so she wants to take care to include them as well. And keep an eye out for the 100 Books, 100 Homes initiative, which will aim to donate art books to Black homes with children and teens.
If visitors to the exhibition leave knowing just one more name of a Black artist, then Walton says she’s satisfied. “That’s all I can really ask for. I’m not asking people to become artists or decide they want to major in art history or become a professor – none of that. I just want to put the information and the knowledge out there, and people can do with it what they want.”
Open through April 18