Asmaa Walton and the Black Art Library: Bright Young Librarians

Image courtesy of Asmaa Walton

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Asmaa Walton, curator of the Black Art Library:

Please introduce us to the Black Art Library:

Black Art Library is a collection of books and other art history ephemera on Black visual art intended to be an educational resource to share within the Black community and beyond. We intend to introduce or expand the community’s knowledge of Black art from the past and the present through art books. 

Currently the collection has over 600 books and has been exhibited in Detroit, Cleveland, San Antonio, Houston, and Charlotte!

How did the project get started? What motivated you?

Black Art Library was born out of the constant observations I made during my time earning my degrees and working in museums. I realized there was such a lack of resources available to learn about Black art. Many cultural institutions were and still are missing the mark when it comes to sharing histories around Black art and artists. I decided I wanted to do my part as an arts educator so I started my own collection of literary works by and about Black visual artists. My thought was that I could compile all of this information that can live in one place so people can find it much easier.

Please tell us about the pop-up Black Art Library displays:

When I started the library I had no idea that it would exist the way it does now. Every pop up or exhibition for the library has been different. Each experience is tailored to the space that it’s in. For the most part the institutions are given the freedom to display the book in whichever way makes sense for the audiences they serve.

black art library
Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit 2021

The Black Art Library, Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit, 2021

black art library
Blue Star Contemporary

The Black Art Library, Blue Star Contemporary, San Antonio, Texas 2022

black art library

The Black Art Library, Spaces, Cleveland Ohio, 2021

black art library
The African American Library at the Gregory School

The African American Library at the Gregory School, Houston, Texas

How do you curate this collection? How do you build it?

When I first began I had no real system for how I was collecting and that’s pretty much still the case. I spent a lot of time online researching which publications I needed and finding ones I didn’t even know existed. Within the first 6 months I had about 250 books and since then my collecting has slowed. I also receive a lot of book donations that help to keep the library growing!

Where did you earn your degrees?

In 2017 I earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Michigan State University and the following year I earned a Master of Arts in Art Politics from New York University.

Favorite item that you've handled as part of the collection?

My favorite item is the first item I purchased for the collection. It is a copy of Beauford Delaney’s 1970 retrospective catalogue from the Studio Museum in Harlem. I was so excited when I found it and it was in amazing condition. I believe I found it on Abebooks and that really just ignited a spark in me to see what other great books I could find.

What do you personally collect?

A lot of items in my personal collection are actually similar items to what’s in Black Art Library’s collection. My collection is much much smaller and I actually didn’t really start building it until after started the library.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Outside of work my favorite thing to do is relax, honestly. But I also love cooking. Once upon a time I was in culinary school because I thought I wanted to be a chef.

Any unusual or particularly interesting items you'd like to draw our attention to that are part of the Black Art Library collection?

My most interesting items are actually the things I add to the collection outside of books. I’ve been able to collect over a hundred 35mm slides that show works by Black artist. A lot of them are from universities or libraries. I grabbed them from one of my favorite places to shop for cool items…..eBay!

What's next for you and the Black Art Library?

I actually have something super exciting I’ve been working on that will be coming in 2023! 

My least favorite part about the work I do is having to tell people that the books in the Black Art Library’s collection are not for sale. I want to be able to help people add amazing things to their collections which lead me to want to sell items as well.

Next year I will be launching an online shop I've named Used & Rare. I’ll be selling preloved books and ephemera specializing in items highlighting Black Art.  I will also be offering a few different book services for individuals and institutions.