Rooted in the activation and elevation of relationships with art, Friends of African and African American Art (FAAAA) was established in 1962 and serves as one of Detroit Institute of Arts’ (DIA) oldest auxiliaries. The esteemed Auxiliary welcomed seven new board members in October to continue driving the mission of its founders, Marc Crawford, Arthur D. Coar, and Willis F. Woods. 

Originally named the African Art Gallery Committee, FAAAA drove a fervent mission of acquiring art to establish a new gallery dedicated to the traditional art of Africa. The first Chairman and Vice-Chairman were Arthur D. Coar and Governor G. Mennen Williams. By the 1980s, the auxiliary comprised a vast portfolio of African American art additions and, in 1992, became The Friends of African and African American Art.

“We each share a vision of making sure the auxiliary is in a position of strength, and it remains in a position of power,” says Nathaniel L. Wallace, Vice-Chair of Friends of African and African American Art (FAAAA) and Director of Knight Foundation. 

Expanding on Coar, Crawford, and Woods’ innate quest for art identification and collection, FAAAA’s current Board of Directors, maintain ignited conversations and action toward preserving the legacy of African and African American art. 

“We are demystifying the art space,” Wallace explains. 

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From Wallace’s perspective, art is far too often perceived to be an interest and experience designated for a certain pedigree of individuals. He notes that the depths of art are boundless, and it is every part of understanding our story as a people. The constant work of FAAA Auxiliary is to stretch far beyond the business of art and its collection solely.  

“The DIA is a top museum of the world. Detroit is also the blackest city in the U.S. Therefore, for those of us part of FAAAA, it’s a bigger conversation around our art,” Wallace continues. He highlights the fact that there is boundless knowledge about art, and the auxiliary aims to serve as a navigator for enthusiasts and the community at large. 

According to its website, the DIA is one of the largest and most distinguished museums within the United States and has over 100 galleries, covering approximately 700,000 square feet. In reference to FAAA’s members, Wallace says everyone involved is unique. 

Tiffany Jackson, native Detroiter and COO of Ignition Media, was recently elected to serve as the auxiliary’s Executive Committee Secretary. She is passionate about this opportunity and states, “I believe it is important to support institutions that are intricately woven in the Detroit culture and landscape. Being a member of the FAAAA auxiliary is inextricably valuable and important to me because as an African American woman, it allows me to expose the mission and goals of FAAAA to an underrepresented audience that may not know or truly appreciate what the DIA or FAAAA has to offer,” 

As for Jerome Watson, one of Michigan‘s top litigators and a longtime FAAAA member who serves as a director, FAAAA allows him to be immersed in his fascination with African and black art. 

“Much of my free time is spent looking at, learning about, and collecting African and African American art. Being a member of FAAAA allows me to connect with like-minded folks and stay up to date on what is happening in this area. I believe an art renaissance is occurring in Detroit and FAAAA should play a leading role in this art expansion,” Watson expresses. 

In some way, shape, or form, art has played a significant role in each member’s life and is a thriving factor for their representation and commitment to the DIA. 

Conrad Egyir is not only an art enthusiast but also a lifelong artist. A native Detroiter, known for his figurative paintings drawn from American pop culture, religious iconography, and historical portraiture, Egyir’s work often depicts life and culture of Ashanti culture from his native Ghana. With varied delivery of solo and group exhibitions throughout his career, Egyir has had two pieces from his 2019 solo show, Ameliorations, prominently featured in Beyonce’s visual album Black Is King, amongst many other recognitions. 

“Art has been instrumental in widening the scope of my understanding and appreciation for the collective human spirit. And as an artist myself, I have been gifted with the responsibility and platform that shares in painting an optimistic and better world in our evolution,” Egyir shares. 

One of Egyir’s paintings, entitled “The Gathering,” was acquired by the DIA in 2021. Mr. Egyir has served as a council member for the Cranbrook Academy of Arts Studio Council. 

Membership Chair, Asmaa Walton, is the founder of the Black Art Library Project. Her reverberating honor for art is evident through the many hats she proudly wears. 

“The work that I do for Black Art Library is centered around Black arts across the diaspora, so having an opportunity to be a part of FAAA aligns so perfectly with me wanting to spread a love for learning about this sector of art,” says Walton.

As a collection of books on Black visual art, Black Art Library Project was birthed by Walton during her time as a Romare Bearden Graduate Museum Fellow at the St. Louis Art Museum. Since its inception as an Instagram account, the Black Art Library expanded into a pop-up at the 48HR Complex in Highland Park in the summer of 2020, eventually evolving into a featured exhibit at MOCAD in the spring of 2021. 

“I have always been sounded by art even before I had a true interest in it. I essentially grew up in the DIA because my mother has worked there since I was very young. I believe it was that indirect exposure that led me to find a love for art while in college, and since then, everything I do has revolved around the arts,” she explains. 

Walton interned at the Toledo Museum of Arts and was later appointed as the first Keybank Diversity Leadership Fellow and Advisor in 2019. 

Intending to raise public awareness and appreciation for the artistic legacy of indigenous Africans and peoples of the African Diaspora, FAAAA members consider the esteemed auxiliary to be a catalyst that ensures thriving exposure and respected engagement of unmatched artistic contributions for all generations.

For more information on FAAAA, including membership opportunities, events, and the many other ways to become involved with the DIA, visit https://www.dia.org/faaaa.

Image: https://www.dia.org/faaaa

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