8 Art Books to Read This February

This month, we’re turning to books that spark questions and crack open new possibilities, with digital culture on our minds as always, and photography looming large as a tool for both oppression and self-determination. A series of free, printable zines focused on the Palestinian cause offer accessible educational resources, while the forthcoming catalogue for Samia Halaby’s canceled show serves as a testament to the Palestinian artist’s decades-long practice. We also found moments of wonder in Søren Solkær’s images of swarms of starlings in the sky, sculptural shapes that seem to have been formed just for us, and much more. —Lakshmi Rivera Amin, editorial coordinator

Recently Reviewed

Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture by Kyle Chayka

As critic Sarah Hromack writes in her review of author and former Hyperallergic editor Kyle Chayka, “Those familiar with Chayka’s frequent essays on technology and culture for the New Yorker and, perhaps, in his previous bookThe Longing for Less: Living with Minimalism, will recognize in Filterworld his talent for giving the amorphous social space of the internet — its platforms, moments, moods, and microtrends — a discernible dimensionality on the page. Making the internet come to life in words is no small feat. (The general tendency is to slip into hyper-specific anecdotes about online history and happenings, thus mooring the reader in a murky abyss of shapeless industry speak.) In Filterworld, Chayka more often draws broader, more legible, and more conversational connections between digital culture and culture writ large — the ‘outside’ world, if you will. Much like his journalistic endeavors, Filterworld is a smooth and fascinating read.”

Read the Review | Buy on Bookshop | January 2024

On Our List

Samia Halaby: Centers of Energy, edited by Elliot Josephine Leila Reichert, Rachel Winter, and Samia Halaby

Samia Halaby book covrr

Palestinian-American artist Samia Halaby waited 87 years for her first US retrospective, only to see it get canceled shortly before its opening date. The Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University won’t say it explicitly, but the most likely reason for the cancellation is Halaby’s pro-Palestine statements on social media. It’s unfair and upsetting, but we can take comfort in the fact that the exhibition catalogue is still available, offering a valuable survey of the multi-decade career of this important, unabashedly outspoken female artist. —Hakim Bishara

Pre-order on Bookshop | Hirmer Publishers, March 2024

Collaboration: A Potential History of Photography

Collaboration Cover

This collage of essays on “collaboration” in photography is much like the medium itself: never neutral and in constant motion. Organizing scholars Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, Wendy Ewald, Susan Meiselas, Leigh Raiford, and Laura Wexler — who’ve worked on the project for over 10 years — acknowledge the book as an experiment meant to bring photography’s inherently collaborative nature into sharp focus. Enlisted scholars and artists penned short essays to highlight the relationship between dozens of photographers and the communities they photographed, often drawing our gaze to both the oppressive and freeing potential of the medium. It’s a captivating and essential resource, sensitively approaching images including the photograph of Emmett Till and daguerreotypes of Papa Renty and his daughter Delia, accompanied by a letter from Azoulay to Tamara Lanier, a descendant of Renty who continues her years-long fight to retrieve the photographs from Harvard University’s archives. —LA

Buy on Bookshop | Thames & Hudson, February 2024

Palestine Zine
Pleasure Pie, “We [Palestinians] Are Not Going Away (2023)

Print-Your-Own Palestine Zines

The Zine Coop has made a selection of printable zines focused on Palestinian solidarity available for free download, embodying the form’s ethos of anticapitalism and accessibility. While some are more compelling than others, the publications range from 2014 to this past month, attesting to the years-long movement for a free Palestine and the enduring importance of educational resources — from “A How-To Guide For Writing to your Congresspeople to Demand a Ceasefire in Gaza” by Andrea Chu to Pleasure Pie’s “We [Palestinians] Are Not Going Away.” —LA

Access on Airtable.com | December 2014–January 2024

Søren Solkær: Starling

Solkaer Starling

If you place a starling feather under a microscope lens, the image will likely resemble a tree leaf. And if you’re patient enough to follow starling flocks across the skies of Europe, as Danish photographer Søren Solkær has done for years, you’ll notice how this multitude of murmuring avians shapeshifts into trees, animals, or one big bird. That’s the wonder of creation, and it’s captured breathtakingly over a two-book series, including the photographer’s previous publication titled Black Sun (2023). —HB

Buy on Bookshop | Edition Circle, December 2023

The Ajanta Caves Ancient Buddhist Paintings of India by Benoy K. Behl

Ajanta Caves 2023 cover

Since the first known literary reference to the Ajanta Caves by the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang in the 7th century CE, the Buddhist site has been celebrated as a masterpiece of art history. This book, a revised edition of the original 2005 publication, brings together the paintings that make the UNESCO World Heritage Site unique, including the spectacular palace image of Visvantara Jataka, one of the most popular jātakas of Theravada Buddhism; the dreamy tale of Hamsa Jataka (story of the Golden Goose); and dozens of other scenes that depict stories that would inspire the monks in these ancient monasteries, which often blend Buddhist and Hindu decoration and aesthetics. A solid primer for those interested in learning more about one of the world’s greatest ancient monuments. —HV

Buy the Book | Thames & Hudson, November 2023

The Witness: Memories of the Colombian Armed Conflict Through the Lens and Voice of Jesús Abad Colorado

El Testigo book hrag pic
(photo Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

With 700 full-color and black-and-white photographs on more than 1,372 pages, El Testigo (meaning “The Witness”) is a memoir of the armed conflict in Colombia that lasted over 30 years. Photographer Jesús Abad Colorado’s images of human rights activists, environmentalists, journalists, students, judges, revolutionaries, and many others tell a personal, multifaceted story of the civil war in four volumes, which come wrapped in a fabric that makes you feel like someone just handed you a secret package that you must keep safe. It’s easy to get lost in these pages, and the bilingual text helps you understand the horrors of the war. The images of children, particularly soldiers, were especially impactful for me, as was the text that explained that there were 8,624 registered cases of child soldier recruitment during the conflict. In an era when images of war and pain are far too prevalent, these make the case for photo books as a still-relevant format for transmitting difficult images with proper context to a wider public. —HV

Buy the Book | Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2022

Godzilla: Asian American Arts Network

Godzilla book cover

When Bing Lee, Ken Chu, and Margo Machida got together to form the Godzilla Asian America Arts Network, they ensured that anyone who attended a public meeting was a voting member. Godzilla, in other words, was an “anarchistic lizard,” as Machida once described it. For about a decade, the network organized exhibitions, newsletters, parties, and other events in the spirit of providing broad support for Asian-American artists. Published in 2021 and now especially relevant given the collective’s landmark show at Eric Firestone Gallery, this monumental book captures the group’s history in a year-by-year chronology with art, photos, typewritten letters, meeting minutes, exhibition records, and other archival material that bring the dynamic period to life. Essays by writers including Alice Yang, Pamela Lee, Karin Higa, and Machida herself help us understand the historic sociocultural context of the time, with a rise in Asian-American immigration in the ’90s. It’s essential reading for students of racial justice and artistic movements alike. —AX Mina

Buy on Bookshop | Primary Information, November 2021

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