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31 Books for Black History Month

By 3rd October 2023October 31st, 2023No Comments

This October, we’re celebrating Black History month by highlighting a book a day from our library.  We’ll be showcasing photography, theory and history with a selection of books that has something for all ages and all levels of interest.  Feel free to pop in to the Hundred Heroines Museum in Gloucester and browse these and other books in the library.  

Day 31: Billie Zangewa - Thread for a Web Begun

Thread for a Web Begun can be interpreted as a call to take up the sant bundle of threads we have and begin our weaving, confident that God (or whatever you believe in) will provide more threads as we go on – enough to finish the web (Dexter Wimberly).


This glorious book is one of the highlights of our collection and a great concluding book to our book-a-day for Black History Month. Large, tactile and beautifully made, it shows the extraordinary work of Billie Zangewa’s hand sewn silk collages. The pictures are glorious, showing the exquisite level of details the artist applies. We’ll be studying it carefully to pick up tips for our Great Train Tapestry!

Day 30: Jacqueline Bobo (ed): Black Women Film and Video Artists

Information about Black women’s formal training is important because their works are, many times, perceived as small, anomalous works of interest to a small circle of intimate friends (Jacqueline Bobo)


As we’ve seen with the other books on this list, Black creatives have been undervalued for too long, and particularly, the creatives who are women.  This volume continues the quest to provide them with the recognition they deserve, focusing on film and video artists.  Divided into three sections, the book offers a collection of essays about various aspects of Black women and film – from their Love Stories to a helpful template for designing a course around the topic, as well as a suggested filmography.

Day 29: Sharna Jackson – What the Artist Saw, Faith Ringgold Narrating the World in Pattern and Colour (illustrated by Andrea Pippins)

In all of her books, Faith blends reality and fantasy to deal with issues around racism optimistically


Another one for our young visitors today.  What the Artist Saw is a great series of accessible introductions to artists. This volume features Faith Ringgold and introduces us to how the young Faith became an artist and why she works with stories, her key artworks, questions to help looking at contemporary art, as well as a number of projects, including (our favourite!) The Art of Activism.  As it’s half-term this week, why not come and visit us (Thursday to Sunday), browse the book and have a go at the activities in our creative space?  Or come and join one of our Art & Activism sessions.

Day 28: LaToya Ruby Frazier - Flint is Family in Three Acts

In creating Flint is Family in Three Acts, I see the role of photographs as empowering and enacting visible change.

Flint is Family (2016), by La Toya Ruby Frazier, documents the extraordinary reclamation of a safe water supply by the residents of Flint, Michigan, after years of inequitable access to this basic human right, after the city council switched the water supply from a treatment plant to the contaminated Flint River.  Collaborating with Shea S Cobb (an activist and artist), Latoya follows her, her family and friends through three distinct phases, the last of which is the arrival of of a water generator in 2019, which she helped set up.  Once again, the artist shows the power of photography at highlighting desperate situations that are overlooked by the media.

Read more about LaToya’s work here.

Day 27: Charlotte Prempeh - Now You See Me! An Introduction to 100 Years of Black Design

With unprecedented levels of attention being paid to diversity in creative fields, debates on the need for representation have expanded – and finally burst – to unveil a new, more vibrant discussion about economic sustainability for Black designers, access to design industries, and support for emerging talent (Charlotte Pempeh)

Hot off the press and straight into our library, this lively volume highlights some of the contributions, over the last 100 years, that Black designers have made to the worlds of fashion, architecture and graphic design.  Too frequently, the designers weren’t given the recognition they deserve at the time and this book is setting the record straight.  Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress and  Terminal 1 at Los Angeles airport (both designed by women BTW) are just a few of the gems in this treasure trove.

Day 26: Tina M. Campt - A Black Gaze: Artists Changing How We See

In A Black Gaze, Tina M. Campt ‘sketches the contours’ of an emergent ‘discomforting, aspirational, defiant’ Black gaze, analysing work by ‘a group of artists whose creative practice […] reject[s] traditional ways of seeing blackness only in a subordinate relation to whiteness.’ Far from engendering passive observation, these artists require the viewer to ‘work’ – to embody the ‘labor of discomfort, feeling, positioning and repositioning.’

The book explores what kind of work these artists are asking audiences to carry out, and the responsiveness their art demands; the recognition ‘that we are implicated in the precarity of Black life in the contemporary moment’, and that in embracing this, we are faced with a choice – ‘act or be complicit.’

Day 24: Carrie Mae Weems - October Files

Carrie Mae Weems’ photoworks create a cartography of experience wherein race, gender and class identity converge

A deep dive into Weems’ practice and the themes she explores, including essays from names like bell hooks, Deborah Willis and Carrie Mae Weems herself.

Find out more about Carrie Mae Weems’s work here.

Day 23: Zanele Muholi - Tate catalogue

I am re-writing a black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our existence, resistance and persistence

A catalogue of some of Zanele’s most iconic black and white works, with interviews, colour work and letters. A candid image of South Africa’s queer scene is presented through stunning portraiture.

Visit Zanele’s Online Gallery, created as part of our Women on Women exhibition for Photo Oxford

Day 22: Sharna Jackson – Black Artists Shaping the World

Black Artists Shaping the World is a celebration! It’s a party to praise some of the many talented Black artists creating exciting and important work today.  This book is your invitation to join in (Sharna Jackson).

A fabulously accessible guide to 26 important Black artists.  Although designed for a young readership, Sharna’s approach makes this book an invaluable reference for anyone interested in art.  She offers a short bio about each artist, followed by an overview, explanation and analysis of one of their works.  Highlights include Carrie Mae Weems (Untitled), Joana Choumali (Because We Actually Played Outside as Kids), María Magdalena Campos-Pons (The Flag) and Zanele Muholi (Bester I, Mayotte).
Accept Sharna’s invitation and join the celebration!

Day 21: Lola Flash - Believable: Traveling with My Ancestors

“Queerness, in Flash’s multiverse, is bathed in color, imbued with love, an embrace: infinitely generous and open.” – Renée Mussai

Believable provides an insight into the extraordinary oeuvre of Lola Flash – from their iconic ‘Cross Colour’ images from the 1980s and 90s, to their recent photography which examines the intersection of Black culture and science fiction.

Day 20: Vashti Harrison – Little Leaders, Bold Women in Black History

Whether they were fighting for their families or for social justice, or daring to become an artist or an astronaut, each one of these women broke barriers for those who came after her.

A truly inspiring book encouraging young girls to follow their dreams. An overview of 40 Black women who changed history, were firsts in their field or pushed boundaries to succeed. Vashti highlights how many of the women featured were already set on their paths to greatness when they were young, through their passion and determination.

Day 19: Aida Amoako – As we see it, Artists Redefining Black Identity

A climate has emerged – or let’s be more accurate and say has been fought for and cultivated – in which Black artists are able to have a much more prominent voice at a much younger age than many of their artistic predecessors (Aida Amoako).

A survey of thirty young Black artists who challenge the myths of Black identity through their work. As well as showing some exquisite images, Aida’s writing draws threads of the different artists together, to weave a rich tapestry of Black representation. Highlights include Joana Choumali, Lebohang Kganye and Rahima Gambo.

Learn more about Joana
Learn more about Lebohang
Learn more about Rahima

Day 18: Tina M Campt – Listening to Images

The silence of the space couldn’t have been louder.

This collection of four essays introduces an innovative approach to archive research by re-imagining images from the African diaspora as sound frequencies.  Using this approach against a complex interweaving of images and the grammar of Black feminist and futurity theories, Tina reclaims the archives of images originally “intended to dehumanize, police, and restrict their subjects” as “moments of refusal, rupture, and imagination”.  Not the easiest of reads, but one of the most thought-provoking.

Day 17: Antwaun Sargent – The New Black Vanguard

The narratives their work generate are wholly new visions of the glamorous Black figure (Antwaun Sargent)

The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion shows works from 15 young Black photographers. Highlighting the history of the lack of Black photographers in the fashion world, Antwaun brings together works from this new generation, who are working in ways where they create the narrative and offer the models alternative platforms in addition to traditional print media.

Day 16: Deana Lawson

I realised at a young age that I had a strong sense of the visual. The decision to become an artist was a very conscious one that felt urgent in my late teens and early twenties. A weight was lifted when I made the decision, and I felt I could exhale, like I had come home to myself.

A survey of fifteen years of Deana’s work, that accompanied her major solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston) in 2021. The volume is divided chronologically into six sections, each introduced with an essay from a scholar, critic or curator; it concludes with an interview between the artist and Deborah Willis.

Influenced by her own family albums, Deana’s portraits create that same intimate relationship with her sitters. Coupled with the careful composition of the images creates vignettes of these people’s lives, such that the reader feels as though they are in the same room.

Find out more about Deana’s work here

Day 15: Faith Ringgold - Tar Beach

I will always remember when the stars fell down around me and lifted me up above the George Washington Bridge.

Another book for our younger visitors today.  Tar Beach is the story of Faith’s first quilt in the series Woman on a Bridge. It depicts Cassie, a young girl, who can fly with the stars, which gives her the freedom to go wherever she likes.  The quilt is shown with other paintings and an age adapted narrative.  Faith Ringgold’s quilts are auto-biographical mixed with fiction, providing an incisive commentary about Black women in America.

Find out more here

Day 14: Arthé A. Anthony - Picturing Black New Orleans

Her photography created a powerful record of middle-class black propriety and dignity, a record providing a glimpse of the rich and varied threads running through the fabric of this vibrant culture (Arthé A. Anthony).

Today’s pick from the library is about one of our favourite pioneers – Florestine Perrault Collins. Written by her great-niece, the book shows the reader a very different New Orleans to that perpetrated at the time by a ‘rabidly racist America’.  Working at the beginning of the twentieth century, Florestine’s portraits show the fashions and hair-styles of the day, weddings, christenings, models, friends, communities and families – a visual overview of the real New Orleans.

Find out more about Florestine here

Day 13: Joy Gregory - Objects of Beauty

Here was an indicator of how the masses embraced postmodernism – a positive side of globalisation involving the crossing not only of political and physical borders, but also the internal borders of human identity and metaphysical spaces (Joy Gregory in The Blonde).

A recent addition to the Hundred Heroines library (although published in 2005) Objects of Beauty showcases 13 of Joy’s projects, highlighting not only her incredible versatility as an artist, but how deeply personal her projects can be.  The book is already popular with visitors and the team, since it provides more context around the blonde wig that Joy donated to the Heroines Collection, which is currently on display in the museum.

Find out more about Joy Gregory here

Day 12: Zarina Bhimji

Working as an artist, I am interested in lots of different things: anthropology, sociology, painting, poetry, history and so many other subjects.

The catalogue of a major retrospective  of  twenty-five years of Zarina’s oeuvre, this volume shows excerpts from ten bodies of work between 1987 (She Loved to Breathe – Pure Silence) and 2011 (Yellow Patch), accompanied by short texts, a  conversation with the artist and an essay by T J Demos.  The images are hauntingly poignant and invite readers to follow their sense of curiosity.

Find out more about Zarina Bhimji here

Day 11: Carol Tulloch – The Birth of Cool

The style narratives of the African diaspora are marked by an aesthetic of presence – to imprint a sense of self on society, culture and history.

This wide-ranging history of ‘style narratives of the African diaspora’ takes the reader on a journey from the African-Jamaican higgler, at the turn of the last century, to the arrival of Caribbean migrants in the 1950s/60s. Highlighting the styles of the era, with reference to individuals who made those styles iconic, Carol shows how style goes way beyond fashion, as an integral part of Black identity and culture. A very readable, personal and informative history.

Carol was part of the original jury who elected the Heroines. Read more.

Day 10: Zanele Muholi - Somnayama Ngonyama / Hail the Dark Lioness

I’m reclaiming my blackness, which I feel is continuously performed by the privileged other. Just like our ancestors, we live as black people 365 days a year, and we should speak without fear (Zanele Muholi).

Today’s pick from the library is a “newspaper” from Autograph, featuring Zanele Muholi.  There is so much in this slim publication, including an interview with Zanele, the artist’s biography, articles about their work and, of course, amazing imagery.  What a great way format to discover artists

Find out more about Zanele’s work here.

Day 9: Carrie Mae Weems - Reflections for Now

I’m a woman who engages with the world. I feel as at home in Seville as in Spanish Harlem.  So, I have these curious interests. I’m walking down curious paths trying to connect the dots.

An exquisite book produced to coincide with the exhibition of the same name earlier in the year.  Filled with images, poetry, stories, essays and conversations.  This is a fabulous account of what makes Carrie Mae Weems the artist she is.

Read Shyama Laxman’s ehibition review here:

Find out more about Carrie Mae Weems’s work here.

Day 8: Ingrid Pollard – Carbon Slowly Turning

There are big differences between the politics of Black and white feminists. Black women cannot afford the luxury of separatism; Black people suffer the effects of racism (Ingrid Pollard)

The first major survey of Ingrid’s work spanning forty years of photography and other media.  Using the body and its relationship with the natural world, she explores issues of race, gender and sexuality, as well as the concept of Britishness.  Divided into six parts, each section starts with an essay and then shows highlights from three bodies of work.

Find out more about Ingrid’s work here.

15th December

Day 7: Women and Photography in Africa. Creative Practices and Feminist Challenges edited by Darren Newbury, Lorena Rizzo and Kylie Thomas.

‘Women photographers, and black African women photographers in particular, are largely absent from early histories of the medium.

 A volume of thirteen essays offering a comprehensive compendium of the role women have played in photographic practices in Africa.  Covering a diverse range of historical and contemporary approaches, including feminism, postcolonial practices, gender and sexuality, the book is an essential addition to the library of archivists, curators, historians and practitioners.

Rianna Jade Parker – A Brief History of Black British Art

Day 6: Rianna Jade Parker - A Brief History of Black British Art

‘There can be no denying that the work of Black artists has forced the art world and its audiences to confront some uncomfortable experiences and histories’

This book does exactly what it promises in the title and provides a brief introduction to 63 Black British artists, including those using photography such as Maud Sulter, Ingrid Pollard and Joy Gregory. A concise companion to the Black artists who have explored themes of ‘race, nationhood, citizenship, gender, class, sexuality and aesthetics in Britain’.

LaToya Ruby Frazier_hundred_Heroines_Women_In_Photography 5

La Toya Ruby Frazier – The Last Cruze

Day 5: LaToya Ruby Frazier – The Last Cruze

‘People keep saying, “I feel sorry for you.  Your plant closed.” It ain’t closed, it’s “unallocated!” What the hell does that mean?  I don’ know.’

The Last Cruze shows the fallout of General Motors’ decision (2018) to close its Lordstown plant and the impact this had on the community.  LaToya spent nine months with the workers and their families, giving them a platform for their voices to be heard.

Read Melissa Spreadborough’s review here
Find out more about LaToya’s work here

Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe: Viewfinders – Black Women Photographers

Day 4: Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe: Viewfinders – Black Women Photographers

“Being a black woman, I was concerned that no women were included in this important addition to photography’s history” (Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe referring to A Century of Black Photographers 1840 – 1960)

This brilliant volume offers a comprehensive survey of black women photographers between 1889 and 1985. Divided into five historical sections, the book surveys thirty-four photographers and lists many others. The narrative and striking images highlight the struggles many of these pioneers endured for their craft.

Read more about Jeanne’s work here

Black Artists Rock! The Cool Kids’ Guide A – Z

Day 3: Black Artists Rock! The Cool Kids’ Guide A – Z

“This book is for artists, art lovers and those who dream of becoming an artist …”

One for our younger visitors today. This book is truly inspirational, featuring 26 awesome African American artists.

Actually, although it’s styled for cool kids, it’s pretty cool for adults too!

Adrian Piper: A Reader

Day 2: Adrian Piper - A Reader

“The six essays contained in this volume situate Piper’s multivalent work amidst current discourses in aesthetics, Kantian philosophy, critical race theory, and theories and histories of Conceptual art”

(Cornelia Butler and David Platzker)

As well as an artist, Adrian Piper is one of the leading women philosophers of our time. This collection of essays offers thought-provoking interpretations of her work, starting with the early days of conceptual art in the 1960s.

An essential addition to any bookshelf about contemporary art.

Read more about Adrian’s work here 

Lorna Simpson: Collages

Day 1: Lorna Simpson - Collages

“Black women’s heads of hair are galaxies unto themselves, solar systems, moonscapes, volcanic interiors”

so writes Elizabeth Alexander in the introduction to Collages.  Lorna Simpson cuts out images of black women (and a few men) that have appeared in advertisements; she replaces their hair with styles created by watercolour and textured images. Colourful, expressive and beautiful.

Read more about Lorna’s work here