COVID-19 : 10 Art Books to read now
In just a few weeks COVID-19 aka Coronavirus has confined more than two billion of people around the planet. Shattering the world order. The cultural sector is no less affected. The World Health Organization has posted important recommendations on its website, such as washing hands or staying more than one meter away from people, while the majority of states are calling on their citizens to remain confined to their homes. Social distancing by confinement quickly emerged as the most effective way to slow down the spread of the Covid-19 so as not to saturate hospitals with small capacity compared to the influx of people potentially affected by this pandemic. We still need to know what to do when we find ourselves confined. Artskop3437 offers you a selection of 10 art books to read or re-read during this period of Covid-19.
1 – Black Refractions Highlights From The Studio Museum In Harlem, 2019
An authoritative guide to one of the world’s most important collections of African-American art, with works by artists from Romare Bearden to Kehinde Wiley. The artists featured in Black Refractions, including Kerry James Marshall, Faith Ringgold, Nari Ward, Norman Lewis, Wangechi Mutu, and Lorna Simpson, are drawn from the renowned collection of the Studio Museum in Harlem. Through exhibitions, public programs, artist residencies, and bold acquisitions, this pioneering institution has served as a nexus for artists of African descent locally, nationally, and internationally since its founding in 1968. Rather than aim to construct a single history of “black art,” Black Refractions emphasizes a plurality of narratives and approaches, traced through 125 works in all media from the 1930s to the present.
An essay by Connie Choi and entries by Eliza A. Butler, Akili Tommasino, Taylor Aldridge, Larry Ossei Mensah, Daniela Fifi, and other luminaries contextualize the works and provide detailed commentary. A dialogue between Thelma Golden, Connie Choi, and Kellie Jones draws out themes and challenges in collecting and exhibiting modern and contemporary art by artists of African descent. More than a document of a particular institution’s trailblazing path, or catalytic role in the development of American appreciation for art of the African diaspora, this volume is a compendium of a vital art tradition. Definitely an excellent book to read or reread during this period of Covid-19.
2 – Zanele Muholi, Somnyama Ngonyama
Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness includes 100 self-portraits created by one of the most powerful visual activists of our time. In each of the images, Muholi drafts material props from her immediate environment in an effort to reflect her journey, explore her own image and possibilities as a black woman in today’s global society, and – most important – to speak emphatically in response to contemporary and historical racisms. As she states, ‘I am producing this photographic document to encourage people to be brave enough to occupy spaces, brave enough to create without fear of being vilified … To teach people about our history, to re-think what history is all about, to re-claim it for ourselves, to encourage people to use artistic tools such as cameras as weapons to fight back’.
More than 20 curators, poets and authors offer written contributions that draw out the layers of meaning and possible readings to accompany select images. They include Renée Mussai, Unoma Azuah, Milisuthando Bongela, Ama Josephine Budge, Cheryl Clarke, Fariba Derakhshani, Andiswa Dlamini, Christine Eyene, Tamar Garb, Thelma Golden, Sophie Hackett, M Neelika Jayawardane, Peace Kiguwa, Mapula Lehong, Sindiwe Magona, Napo ‘Popo’ Masheane, Hlonipha Mokoena, Jackie Mondi, Pumelela ‘Push’ Nqelenga, Oluremi C Onabanjo, Ruti Talmor, Christie van Zyl, Carla Williams and Deborah Willis. Powerfully arresting, this collection is as much a manifesto of resistance as it is an autobiographical, artistic statement. Definitely an excellent book to read or reread during this period of Covid-19.
3 – Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful
In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Kwame Brathwaite used his photography to popularize the political slogan “Black Is Beautiful.” This monograph―the first ever dedicated to Brathwaite’s remarkable career―tells the story of a key, but under-recognized, figure of the second Harlem Renaissance.
Inspired by the writings of activist and black nationalist Marcus Garvey, Brathwaite, along with his older brother, Elombe Brath, founded the African Jazz Arts Society and Studios (AJASS) and the Grandassa Models (1962). AJASS was a collective of artists, playwrights, designers, and dancers; Grandassa Models was a modeling agency for black women, founded to challenge white beauty standards.
From stunning studio portraits of the Grandassa Models to behind-the-scenes images of Harlem’s artistic community, including Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, and Miles Davis, this book offers a long-overdue exploration of Brathwaite’s life and work. Probably a beautiful art book to read or reread during this Covid-19 period and beyond.
4 – Making Africa by the late Okwui Enwezor
“The future belongs to Africa, because it seems to have happened everywhere else already”—Okwui Enwezor
“Making Africa” takes a fresh look at African design. For the first time, we have a book that focuses on creative accomplishments on the continent, without being obsessed with the usual tropes of recycling, humanitarian design or traditional crafts. Instead, “Making Africa” shows a new generation of designers who use their work as a tool for economic, political and social change and therefore also to create a new future for the continent. Their creative output defies all definitions of genres – crossing over classical fields such as furniture design, product design and typography to encompass digital media, art, photography, architecture and film.
A large section of the catalogue is dedicated to documenting work by over 120 protagonists of Africa’s new creative epoch – including Cyrus Kabiru, Cheick Diallo, Mário Macilau, Francis Kéré, David Adjaye, Kunlé Adeyemi, Bodys Isek Kingelez, Robin Rhode, Alaforu Sikoki, Selly Raby Kan and many more. The historical and theoretical background is explored in essays and discussions with Okwui Enwezor, Koyo Kouoh, Edgar Pieterse and Amelie Klein, among others. These are complemented by statements from around 70 other experts from Africa, who met at interviews and think tanks in cities such as Cape Town, Johannesburg, Lagos, Dakar, Nairobi and Cairo.
This is a book about the future of Africa and about a new, more open way of understanding design – which means it is also a book about what design can achieve in the 21st century.
5 – The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion by Antwaun Sargent
In The New Black Vanguard: The featuring of the Black figure and Black runway and cover models in the media and art has been one marker of increasingly inclusive fashion and art communities. More critically, however, the contemporary visual vocabulary around beauty and the body has been reinfused with new vitality and substance thanks to an increase in powerful images authored by an international community of Black photographers. In a richly illustrated essay, Sargent opens up the conversation around the role of the Black body in the marketplace; the cross-pollination between art, fashion, and culture in constructing an image; and the institutional barriers that have historically been an impediment to Black photographers participating more fully in the fashion (and art) industries.
Fifteen artist portfolios feature the brightest contemporary fashion photographers, including Tyler Mitchell, the first Black photographer hired to shoot a cover story for American Vogue; Campbell Addy, founder of the Nii Agency and journal; and Nadine Ijewere, whose early series title, The Misrepresentation of Representation, says it all. Alongside a series of conversations between generations, their images and stories chart the history of inclusion, and exclusion, in the creation of the commercial Black image, while simultaneously proposing a brilliantly reenvisioned future. Photographs by Campbell Addy, Arielle Bobb-Willis, Micaiah Carter, Awol Erizku, Nadine Ijewere, Quil Lemons, Namsa Leuba, Renell Medrano, Tyler Mitchell, Jamal Nxedlana, Daniel Obasi, Ruth Ossai, Adrienne Raquel, Dana Scruggs, and Stephen Tayo and including conversations with Shaniqwa Jarvis, Mickalene Thomas, and Deborah Willis are featured. Definitely an excellent book to read or reread during this period of Covid-19.
6 – A new republic by Kehinde Wiley
Filled with reproductions of Kehinde Wiley’s bold, colorful, and monumental work, this book encompasses the artist’s various series of paintings as well as his sculptural work which boldly explore ideas about race, power, and tradition. Celebrated for his classically styled paintings that depict African American men in heroic poses, Kehinde Wiley is among the expanding ranks of prominent black artists such as Sanford Biggers, Yinka Shonibare, Mickalene Thomas, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye who are reworking art history and questioning its depictions of people of color.
Co-published with the Brooklyn Museum of Art for the major touring retrospective, this volume surveys Kehinde Wiley’s career from 2001 to the present. It includes early portraits of the men Wiley observed on Harlem’s streets, and which laid the foundation for his acclaimed reworkings of Old Master paintings by Titian, van Dyke, Manet, and others, in which he replaces historical subjects with young African American men in contemporary attire: puffy jackets, sneakers, hoodies, and baseball caps.
Also included is a generous selection from Wiley’s ongoing World Stage project; several of his enormous Down paintings; striking male portrait busts in bronze; and examples from the artist’s new series of stained glass windows. Accompanying the illustrations are essays that introduce readers to the arc of Wiley’s career, its critical reception, and ongoing evolution. Definitely an excellent book to read or reread during this period of Covid-19.
7 – Contemporary African Art since 1980 by the late Okwui Enwezor and Chika Okeke-Agulu
Contemporary African Art Since 1980 is the first major survey of the work of contemporary African artists from diverse situations, locations, and generations who work either in or outside of Africa, but whose practices engage and occupy the social and cultural complexities of the continent since the past 30 years. Its frame of analysis is absorbed with historical transitions: from the end of the postcolonial utopias of the sixties during the 1980s to the geopolitical, economic, technological, and cultural shifts incited by globalization. This book is both narrower in focus in the periods it reflects on, and specific in the ground it covers. It begins by addressing the tumultuous landscape of contemporary Africa, examining landmarks and narratives, exploring divergent systems of representation, and interrogating the ways artists have responded to change and have incorporated new aesthetic principles and artistic concepts, images and imaginaries to deal with such changes.
Organized in chronological order, the book covers all major artistic mediums: painting, sculpture, photography, film, video, installation, drawing, collage. It also covers aesthetic forms and genres, from conceptual to formalist, abstract to figurative practices. Moving between discursive and theoretical registers, the principal questions the book analyzes are: what and when is contemporary African art? Who might be included in the framing of such a conceptual identity? It also addresses the question of globalization and contemporary African art.
The book thus provides an occasion to examine through close reading and visual analysis how artistic concerns produce major themes. The main claim of this book is that contemporary African art can be best understood by examining the tension between the period of great political changes of the era of decolonization that enabled new and exciting imaginations of the future to be formulated, and the slow, skeptical, and social decline marked by the era of neo-liberalism and Structural Adjustment programs of the 1980s. These issues are addressed in chapters covering the themes of “Politics, Culture, Critique,” “Memory and Archive,” “Abstraction, Figuration and Subjectivity,” and “The Body, Gender and Sexuality.” Definitely an excellent art book to read or reread during this period of Covid-19.
8 – African Textiles Today
African Textiles Today illustrates how African history is read, told, and recorded in cloth. All artifacts or works of art hold within them stories that range far beyond the time of their creation or the lifetime of their creator, and African textiles are patterned with these hidden histories. In Africa, cloth may be used to memorialize or commemorate something – an event, a person, a political cause – which in other parts of the world might be written down in detail or recorded by a plaque or monument. History in Africa can be read, told, and recorded in cloth.
Making and trading numerous types of cloth have been vital elements in African life and culture for at least two millennia, linking different parts of the continent with each other and the rest of the world. Africa’s long engagement with the peoples of the Mediterranean and the islands of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans provides a story of change and continuity. African Textiles Today shows how ideas, techniques, materials, and markets have adapted and flourished, and how the dynamic traditions in African textiles have provided inspiration for the continent’s foremost contemporary artists and photographers. With a concluding chapter discussing the impact of African designs across the world, the book offers a fascinating insight into the living history of Africa. It is definitely a good art book to read or reread during this period of Covid-19.
9 – Mickalene Thomas I Can ́t See You Without Me
Presenting paintings of some of the artist’s key models and muses, I Can’t See You Without Me illuminates the work of Brooklyn painter Mickalene Thomas (born 1971). Culling from art history and popular culture, Thomas creates scintillating portraits that deconstruct the highly charged connections between sitter, artist and viewer.
Whether depicted as classically composed 19th-century odalisques, Afro-adorned vixens of blaxploitation films or as a powerful maternal figure yearning for social mobility, the recurring models in Thomas’ compositions (almost exclusively women of color) convey a spirit of strength and self-confidence. Across this archetypal array, it is both their contradictions and kinships that make the black female body such fertile terrain for the artist’s ongoing investigations. By casting herself, her late mother and other formidable women in her life as models, muses and collaborators, Thomas particularizes her distinctive oeuvre of portraiture. Focused yet expansive, the catalog both reasserts and further contextualizes issues of identity, sexuality and agency in Thomas’ work that have only become more nuanced and palpable over time. Probably an excellent art book to read or reread during this Covid-19 period and beyond.
10 – Recent Histories : Contemporary African Photography and Video Art from the Walther Collection
Recent Histories: Contemporary African Photography and Video Art from The Walther Collection is an art book that unites the perspectives of 14 contemporary artists of African descent, who investigate social identity, questions of belonging, and an array of sociopolitical concerns—including migration, lineage, the legacies of colonialism and Calvinism, and local custom—as well as personal experiences in Africa and the African diaspora.
By highlighting specific creative approaches and studying the sites and collective platforms that enable these practices, this book examines the critical mass that has gathered across generations of African image-makers and lens-based artists. In accentuating different perspectives within this generation and considering the infrastructures that often link them, Recent Histories provides a point of entry to engage critically with current practices, and opens up considerations about how to conceptualize the frameworks of contemporary African photography and video art. Probably one of the best art book to read or reread during this Covid-19 period.