Posts Tagged ‘Michele Y. Washington’

The Afro Talks Back

Present Tense: The 2011 D-Crit Conference: Michele Washington, Untangling the Naps: The Afro Talks Back from D-Crit on Vimeo.

“Untangling the Naps” investigates the cultural and historical significance of the Afro, and how the afro is expressed today. I explore images of the Afro/’fro/Natural and how they were used to define blackness, racial pride, and ultimately, the black design aesthetic.

The themes for this work focus on identity, hair, blackness and power, ideas expressed in the statement by Robin D. G. Kelley, Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at USC College.

“No matter what we might think about culture and style as a terrain of struggle, hairstyle politics, particularly in the Black community, reveal a great deal about power—the power of white over black, men over women, employer over workers, state over citizens.” — By Robin D. G. Kelley, Nap Time: Historicizing the Afro


My field of enquiry is based on my long-term research into the black aesthetic influence on graphic design in the twentieth century. The title, “Untangling the Naps,” suggests how I have used the Afro as a graphic narrative, in the next phase of my quest to understand the black aesthetic. In my research I investigate the historical and cultural significance of the Afro in the past, and in its current expressions. I have also researched the struggles that describe the “politics of style,” and explore the images and signifiers of the Afro/’fro/Natural that are used to define blackness, racial pride, and the new black design aesthetic of hip. My objective is to illustrate the ways this natural hairstyle has been used as a significant graphic element in the black vernacular narrative and in social media to brand black hipness.


Black Studies in Art & Design Education Conference

Coming in March
Black Studies in Art & Design Education Conference at the The New School

March 26th-27th 2011. Two Day Conference on interdisciplinary conference on Black Studies in Art and Design Education, featuring speakers from art, fashion. architecture, urban planning, art and design history and theory. Organised by Coco Fusco and Yvonne Watkins, Parsons The New School for Design, New York. Presenters include: Craig Wilkins, University of Michigan; Mabel Wilson, Columbia University; Noel Mayo, Ohio State; Carol Tulloch, Chelsea College of Art and Design; Jennifer Gonzales, North Carolina State University; Michele Y. Washington, School of Visual Arts; Kim Piner, School of the Arts Institute of Chicago; Noliwe Rooks, Princeton University; Clyde Johnson MICA are amongst the list of designers, cultural and design critics, and educators presenters.

The conference is intended to be a forum for reflection on the troubling gap between the notable significance of Black creativity in global culture and its lack of presence in art and design education. The goal of the conference is to elaborate and assess strategies of reform that would diversify curricular offerings and thus improve education for all art and design students while simultaneously generating a more supportive environment for Black students and faculty.

Scholars and practitioners in Fine Arts, Industrial Design, Fashion Design, Architecture, Urban Planning and Art and Design History and Theory will engage in an interdisciplinary discussion about the challenges involved in rethinking  curriculum, engaging with historically disenfranchised communities, and recruiting and retaining Black students and faculty. The conference will also feature two keynote speeches by prominent members of the fields under  figures whose efforts have been central to diversifying the many fields that comprise art and design studies. Panels will address the following topics: rethinking art and design theory and history courses in light of the global influence of cultures of the African diaspora; curricular reform in practical courses of art and design; strategies of engagement with black communities; Black student experiences in art and design schools; and the specific challenges of recruiting and retaining Black students and faculty in school of art and design.

photo credit:

FOOD: Sharing My Childhood Memories

My maternal grandmother, Mabel H. Jones

I can’t wait to get my copy of America I Am Pass it Down Cookbook, featuring my Stolen Authority essay and my Grandmother’s  yummy Apple Dumpling’s recipe that brings back childhood memories of being 6 years-old, kneeling in the kitchen chair anxiously watching her bake.  The smells in the kitchen, the unforgettable flavors—these powerful memories of food, family, and tradition are intertwined and have traveled down from generations past to help make us the people we are today. Now, Tavis Smiley’s America I AM exhibit has joined forces with Chef Jeff Henderson and Ramin Ganeshram to create the America I AM Pass It Down Cookbook.

Design by M. Y. Washington

Below is an excerpt from my essay:

Stolen Authority: African American Images in Food Advertising

In 1991 I co-curated an exhibition, featuring African American designers  titled Visual Perceptions: 21 African American Designers challenge Modern Stereotypes designers challenged modern stereotypes, and each graphic designer was charged with the task to create a one-of-kind poster addressing how blacks have been continuously portrayed in the media. I decided to tackle the image of Aunt Jemima, creating a poster, titled, “Ain’t Ja Mama on the Pancake Box.” As I researched my piece, I began to think deeply about the image of the, heavy-set, wide bosomed black woman, hair tied up and grinning from ear to ear. She was a soothing, even comforting figure in American food advertising. Pancakes, after all are homey, cozy, sweet and delicate.

The truth is, of course, that Aunt Jemima is just one of the all-too- poor mammy, pickannies, and blackface, characters who were a standard portrayal of Africa Americans—one that was used to peddle everything from tires to clothing to food.

Toni Tipton- Martin, a food historian, has extensively researched the origins of such symbols, and compared them to the lack of inclusion of blacks cooks in the culinary arts. It’s a bitter irony that their success has always been dependent on the real-world authority invested in these figures. They are experts in their ”fields” and that’s what makes their products good. It is an irony that is played out over and over in the pages of the old magazines.


01 2011

DESIGN: AIGA’s Design Journey Has Arrived

Check out AIGA’s Design Journey: You Are Here

This is a photo essay of the opening night celebration.

Above is a selection of photos which include mural design by Rafael Esquer of Alfalfa Studio, Exhibition Design by Marcos Chavez of TODO, group shot of 2010 graduates of D-Crit program Angela Reichers, Alan Rapp and Fred Duarto.


05 2010