The Designs of African American Life
Chicago Cultural Center
Friday and Saturday, November 2-3, 2018
Where is design in the history of African American life? In many respects, it has been, and continues to be, everywhere. As artisans, mechanics, milliners, tailors, sign-painters, hair dressers, book makers, art directors, commercial photographers, architects, product engineers, and digital media specialists, African Americans have taken up design work and entered the design professions not only to earn a living but also to elevate the value of African American life over and against the racism that has devalued that life from the age of Atlantic slavery to our present moment of global capitalism. Yet, in several critical respects, we have only begun to reckon with design as a practice for African American life and as a mode for African American living. As a field of social practice in which people seek to transform the sensory world according to aesthetic and ethical principles, design opens a fresh perspective on the relation of African American art to African American life. How have African Americans used design forms and practices to represent identities, evoke desires, build institutions, direct political action, distribute wealth, and realize social justice? How does the history of African American design relate to histories of culture, society, and political economy? What pasts and futures are contained in archives of African American design, and what methods are needed to preserve, exhibit, and (re)animate them?
This symposium marks the opening of African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce, and the Politics of Race, an exhibition that will run at the Chicago Cultural Center from October 2018 to March 2019. While the exhibition celebrates the works of Chicago-based graphic artists in fields ranging from sign-painting to doll-making, the symposium will go beyond Chicago and beyond the graphic arts in order to take stock of current work in the field and to explore new directions for research and practice. As they advance new narratives and methodologies that grasp the place of design in African American life, speakers will illuminate critical problems at the intersection of art, politics, and the economy.
The symposium features keynote addresses by Jacqueline Goldsby (Yale University) and Adam Green (University of Chicago), along with presentations by Elspeth Brown (University of Toronto), Jason Chambers (University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign), Romi Crawford (School of the Art Institute of Chicago), Joshua Clark Davis (University of Baltimore), Michelle Fisher (Philadelphia Art Museum/City University of New York), Brenna Greer (Wellesley College), Kinohi Nishikawa (Princeton University), and Michelle Joan Wilkinson (National Museum of African American History and Culture).