I want this bibliography to exist as a tool, just as anti-racism books are tools. You can’t will away racism by just reading. The material that you read has to be put into practice.Adria Gunter, Curatorial Assistant, Nasher Museum, referencing her project, Reading Black Art
How to bring reading about art into the conversation?
Nearly every day in the summer of 2020, Adria Gunter was met with a fast-scrolling barrage of headlines, videos, audio clips and words of outrage over the brutalization of Black people. Catalyzed by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and far too many others, Black Lives Matter protests began erupting around the country in late May. COVID-19 was already out of control and continues to disproportionately impact Black people. Last summer’s protests encapsulated generations of anger, grief and exhaustion only exacerbated by a global pandemic and anti-Black violence.
Through the onslaught of news about the twin viruses of COVID-19 and systemic racism, Adria continued to work from home. As Curatorial Assistant at the Nasher Museum of Art, she ran the weekly curatorial team meetings on Zoom. She wrote a post of solidarity for Black Lives Matter for the Nasher’s Instagram channel. She helped edit a new page on the museum’s website highlighting the murals painted by Black artists in downtown Durham.
Headlines about murdered Black people were not new to Adria, who is one of few Black people on the mostly white museum staff. But this past summer she noticed an emergence of terms and phrases throughout social media, such as anti-Blackness and antiracism. Listening, reading and absorbing, Adria noticed that white people and non-Black people of color were talking about an urgency to read more about these terms.
Adria thought about the questions people were asking. What is anti-Blackness? How has it manifested on a global scale? How has it manifested on a national scale? She noticed people asking how they might have participated in anti-Blackness in their workplace or among their families and friends. Sales for books such as Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad and How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi were through the roof.
“How can I bring reading about art into the conversation?” Adria asked herself.
A Personal Project
Her workplace is an art museum that focuses on collecting and presenting the work of emerging Black artists. “It just felt very intuitive to bring this conversation to the table.”
So Adria set out to gather titles of scholarly resources on art, art history and visual culture of the African Diaspora. The result is a new online project for the Nasher Museum eight months in the making: Reading Black Art: A Resource on Black Artists, Art History and Visual Culture.
Many of the books in Reading Black Art will help readers and visitors better understand and engage with work by Black artists in the Nasher Museum’s collection. Reading Black Art also features exhibition catalogues published by the Nasher Museum on the occasion of original, traveling exhibitions of work by Black artists.
“Making art is a form of protest––Black artists are communicating experiences that are unique to Black people and Black communities,” Adria said. “Black art matters. Black artists matter. They always have. They always will.”
The Reading Black Art project felt fulfilling—and personal—especially during the past year, she said. Adria’s personal interests, research interests and curatorial interests focus on contemporary Black art. “I’m a Black woman. It felt timely, it felt needed, it was a really eye-opening experience.”
“I love the process of building a bibliography and constantly adding to it,”
“I want to be more informed. I always want to know what is out there, what is going on. How can I help myself learn, and how can I help others learn?”
Now that Reading Black Art is available on the Nasher’s website, Adria hopes that visitors might gain a better understanding of what artists are communicating—the symbolism and the meaning behind their work. The books will supplement information that visitors find on wall labels.
“I want this bibliography to exist as a tool, just as anti-racism books are tools,” Adria said. “You can’t will away racism by just reading. The material that you read has to be put into practice.”
I love the process of building a bibliography and constantly adding to it. I want to be more informed. I always want to know what is out there, what is going on. How can I help myself learn, and how can I help others learn?Adria Gunter, Curatorial Assistant, Nasher Museum, referencing her project, Reading Black Art