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Celebrating Black History


Elephant Rider Vase (2011) by the Workshop of Ardmore Ceramic Art, South Africa

African Design: Past to Present

In 1981, Haig David-West examined the state of graphic design in Africa for the IX ICOGRADA General Assembly in Helsinki. His conference paper, in which he discusses the education, promotion, standardization and administration of graphic design in Africa towards the end of the 20th century, is republished as a chapter in Development, Globalization, Sustainability, Volume IV of Design: Critical and Primary Sources, edited by D. J. Huppatz. In The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design, Donna Pido gives an overview of East African Design from the first to the 21st century, from settlement patterns and stitched boats in the Lamu Archipelago, to design streams in the 1800s and the dawn of the cyber age in the 1990s. Jeanne Van Eeden also writes about the role of design and the emergence of design ideologies, processes and practices in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa between 1850 and 2014 in her article on Southern African Design. For an insight into design movements in South Africa today, Luke Jordan writes about Grassroot, the non-profit technology start-up which provides tools for activists in his chapter, ‘Designing Tools for Low-income Community Organizing’ in Ethics in Design and Communication, edited by Laura Scherling and Andrew DeRosa.

Fashion models wait to head onto the runway during Dakar Fashion Week in Dakar on December 12, 2020.

Fashion Design and Transnational Contexts

In her chapter on African dress in Dress History, edited by Charlotte Nicklas and Annebella Pollen, Nicola Stylianou examines Ethiopian clothing and the acquisition of historic objects. Focusing particularly on clothing that belonged to Queen Woyzaro Terunesh, or Tiruwork Wube as she was also known, and drawing on deep archival research, Stylianou traces the clothing’s journey from Ethiopia to the Victoria and Albert Museum in the UK. Through these garments, she explores the history of Britain’s engagement with Africa and the shifting reception and status of African designed objects. In her chapter ‘La Mode Dakaroise’ in Fashion’s World Cities, edited by Christopher Breward and Davis Gilbert, Hudita Nura Mustafa explores the development and perception of Dakar as an African fashion capital. Reflecting on the 20th century characterization of Dakar as the ‘Paris of Africa’, Mustafa looks at fashion design and the economic and cultural conditions during the transformation of colonial cities. She addresses the interrelations of production, consumption and display in addition to the symbolic power of dress in a post-colonial fashion context.

Gold rhinestones

Mickalene Thomas, Materiality and Contemporary Feminist Art

In her chapter ‘Pleasure Craft’ in Radical Decadence, Julia Skelly discusses the different materials at play in the work of Mickalene Thomas, Nava Lubelski and Shary Boyle. In particular, Skelly examines how Mickalene Thomas, a contemporary Brooklyn-based mixed-media artist, explores ideas of femininity, beauty and race in her work. Contextualising Thomas’s work within the history of the Black female subject in visual and material culture, Skelly highlights her use of alluring, ‘excessive’ surface material, such as rhinestones, in her representations of Black women, and how particular materials can mask or disrupt viewers’ access to her subjects. Skelly also considers the use of materials that have traditionally been associated with craft in addition to the historical reception of women artists of color.

Patriotic Quilt with phrase 'Dare I trust the American Flag to keep me warm?'

OBJECT FOCUS: Patriotic Quilt (1995)

Patriotic Quilt (1995) was made by Kyra E. Hicks, a quilt artist and historian known for creating story quilts which explore personal and political themes. Hicks juxtaposes words and images to create personal, beautiful and thought-provoking compositions. This particular cotton quilt depicts a Black woman being warmed by the American flag whilst the names of three prominent African-American women – Joycelyn Elders, Lani Guiner and Anita Hill – burn in flames alongside other American symbols. Elders was the Surgeon General of the United States from 1993-1994 and was forced to resign when her advocacy for comprehensive sex education was seen as controversial. Guinier, a civil rights theorist, was President Bill Clinton’s nominee for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in 1993, yet lost his support due to negative press around her writing. In 1991, Hill spoke out about alleged sexual harassment by the Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Hill was subsequently demonized by the media and the United States Senate affirmed Thomas’s appointment. Describing Patriotic Quilt, Hicks said that the provocative work asks how much a woman of color may trust the USA government. As highlighted by Magali An Berthon in her article on quilting in The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design, since the late twentieth century, the craft of quilting has often been used to explore and critique ideas around women and work. Catherine Harper writes about other quilts which have social, political and emotional significance in her chapter, ‘Sex, Birth and Nurture Unto Death’ in Love Objects, edited by Anna Moran and Sorcha O’Brien. She discusses quilts such as the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, an ongoing project, as well as historical contexts of quilting and the readability of cloth.

Detail of African Kasai velvet tapestry woven by Kuba tribe.

LESSON PLAN: Decolonization and Design

Catering to both studio and theory classes, this five-week lesson plan by the Decolonising Design Group provides an introduction to a range of influential approaches to thinking about decolonization and design. Including texts to be read before class, questions to tackle and further reading, this plan will enable students to critically analyse and challenge a range of scholarship and practices and apply a decolonial approach to future endeavours.

Image credits:
Homepage: Traditional Ethiopian Baskets. Evgenii Zotov/Getty Images
Images above: 1) Elephant Rider Vase (2011) by the Workshop of Ardmore Ceramic Art, South Africa. © Image courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design, USA; 2) TOPSHOT - Fashion models wait to head onto the runway during Dakar Fashion Week in Dakar on December 12, 2020. Photo by JOHN WESSELS/AFP via Getty Images; 3) Gold rhinestones. Jenny Dettrick/Getty Images; 4) Patriotic Quilt (1995), Kyra E. Hicks. Part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Arts and Design, USA. Gifted by the artist in 2002. Photo credit: Eva Heyd; 5) Detail of African Kasai velvet tapestry woven by Kuba tribe. Brytta / Getty Images




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