Six Art Books to Read This Juneteenth

In our 2021 special edition celebrating Juneteenth, scholar Leigh Raiford spoke with Hyperallergic Editor-in-Chief Hrag Vartanian about the multifaceted potential of photography, particularly by Black artists. “It never performs a single function,” she explained. “It’s a document, it’s performance, it’s surveillance, it’s violence; it’s speculative and fabulation, it’s aspiration, it’s comfort.” We’ve gathered six photography and art books that offer entry points into the history of this growing latticework of Black American artistry, with a focus on the camera’s shifting role as a means of self-determination, opacity, and expression. Check out these titles through the Black-owned bookstores near you, including Adanne in Brooklyn, Marcus Books in Oakland, and Black Pearl Books in Austin. Happy reading, and happy Juneteenth!

The New Black West: Photographs from America’s Only Touring Black Rodeo by Gabriela Hasbun

New Black West

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, the only touring Black rodeo in the country. Photographer Gabriela Hasbun’s The New Black West is an ode to the organization and the community it has cultivated over the years, spanning generations and geographies in celebration of Black cowboy culture and featuring a foreword by the rodeo’s Bay Area coordinator, Jeff Douvel. Tender snapshots of parents embracing their children, a cowgirl and her horse, and rodeo host waving artist David Hammons’s African-American flag are among a wealth of photographs that provide a glimpse into the spirit of the Black Western rodeo, long appropriated by mainstream White narratives of the American South.

Read the Report | Buy on Bookshop | Chronicle Books, 2022

Art on My Mind: Visual Politics by bell hooks

art on my mind bell hooks

The legacy of late critic and scholar bell hooks looms large across creative disciplines, and visual art is no exception. Though celebrated for her Love Song to the Nation trilogy (1999–2001) and theorization of white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy, hooks’s 1995 Art on My Mind fuses her academic interests with a focus on Black American artists. She brings the practice of artists such as Alison Saar, Emma Amos, and Margo Humphrey into conversation with her political and aesthetic interests, often revealing as much about her as the artists themselves. Her introduction lays out the explicitly political stakes of her essay collection and invites us into her conception of “the radical place that art occupies within the freedom struggle and of the way in which experiencing art can enhance our understanding of what it means to live as free subjects in an unfree world.”

Buy on Bookshop | The New Press, 1995

BPP Graphic novel cover

The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History by David F. Walker and Marcus Kwame Anderson and Comrade Sisters: Women of the Black Panther Party by Ericka Huggins and Stephen Shames

The Black Panther Party’s multifaceted approach to community organizing embodied the phrase in the truest sense, spanning protest, childhood, education, and free food programs. Comic artists David F. Walker and Marcus Kwame Anderson chronologize the Party’s history in a brilliantly illustrated graphic novel, beginning with its precursors in the Civil Rights Movement and continuing through its decline in the late 1980s.

9781788841757comradesisters 1

Meanwhile, Party leader Ericka Huggins narrates the history of women in the organization in Comrade Sisters, which pairs her reflections with Stephen Shames’s introspective photos. Read together, these two books complement each other in demystifying the oft-mythologized activist group’s radical politics and imagination.

Buy The Black Panther Party and Comrade Sisters on Bookshop | Ten Speed Press, 2021 and ACC Art Books, 2022

Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery by Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer

envisioning emancipation book cover

In a 2018 interview with Hyperallergic, curator and photographer Deborah Willis discussed founding the Center for Black Visual Culture at New York University, a corollary to her earlier work and collaboration with historian Barbara Krauthamer on the publication Envisioning Emancipation. This comprehensive study brings together over 150 images from the years before the abolition of slavery through the 1930s, prying open archival fissures to shine a light on Black Americans documenting their freedom, community, and self-regard through the photographic lens.

Buy on Bookshop | Temple University Press, 2012

Called to the Camera: Black American Studio Photographers, edited by Brian Piper

called to the camera book cover

Rooted in a 2022–23 exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art, Called to the Camera builds upon previous work — including that of Willis and Krauthamer — to flesh out the world of Black American studio photography through today. Portraits by familiar names like James Van Der Zee appear alongside those by unsung artists, including New Orleans portrait photographer Florestine Perrault Collins. Essays contextualizing the wealth of images accompany crisply reproduced photos, which guide us along a journey through the church gatherings and sports games of everyday life, and pivotal figures in Black American history, including Eartha Kitt (teaching a dance class), Booker T. Washington (posed on his favorite horse, Dexter), and Frederick Douglass (seated alongside his grandson).

Buy on Bookshop | New Orleans Museum of Art, 2023

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