• Charlie Gleek deposited Centuries of Black Artists’ Books in the group Group logo of TM Book History, Print Cultures, LexicographyTM Book History, Print Cultures, Lexicography on MLA Commons 4 months, 1 week ago

    Black artists have created, modified, or otherwise treated the book as an object of aesthetic expression since at least the nineteenth century. African American artists’ production and circulation of friendship albums and scrapbooks, democratic multiples and artist publishing, accordion folds, enclosures, and fine printing editions, all work to bend and stretch the form of the codex-based book in multiple ways. However, black artists’ books are under-examined, if not wholly untreated, across several scholarly domains. Johanna Drucker’s genre-defining claim that “It would be hard to find an art movement in the 20th century which does not have some component of the artist’s book attached to it” rests on a body of critical literature that ignores the legacy of structural racism in artistic, literary and museum cultures, and in turn forecloses how black artists’ books simultaneously align to and disrupt conceptual and practical definitions of the form. Yet Drucker’s understanding of artists’ books as a “zone of activity” where artists and audiences explore questions about the nature of what constitutes the book-as-form in concert with artists’ creative and intellectual visions, the political economy of independent production and circulation of books, and activist work on the part of artists, exhibition spaces, and audiences continues to have intellectual purchase. My paper highlights examples of how black artists’ books align with and push against the over-determined modernist definition of the artist’s book which dominates existing scholarship. Black artists’ books serve as sites for what Bertram Ashe describes as post-soul aesthetics, thus contributing to understanding blackness’ complexities and nuances, and also enriches and expands the temporal and conceptual domain of the artist’s book itself. The history and present condition of black artist’s books textuality necessitates the comprehensive recovery, amplification, and criticism of this vital cultural work.