As Black History Month comes to a close, we’re beginning something new on Eye on Design: asking archivists, librarians, curators, educators, and designers to pull out the works of black designers from their stacks—the ones that influenced them personally, as well as the graphic design community at large.
Our hope is that by asking the guardians of graphics collected, indexed, and preserved for posterity in very specific institutional and educational contexts, the series will eventually pull together a resource of works and list of designers that will show a broader history of black graphic design and aesthetic impact. By continually surfacing significant designers and displaying underrepresented styles, it will also unearth the origins of aesthetics that have been co-opted and become so pervasive to have become disconnected from their original source. And, as with all of the pieces in our archive series, we hope this series will provide inspiration for designers working today.
A piece called “Searching for the Black Aesthetic in American Graphic Design”, written by Sylvia Harris in the 1990s was our starting point for this project. In it Harris laments the fact that the aesthetic contributions of black designers are often left undocumented in graphic design history, and wonders how to construct a black design tradition. “Black contributions to America’s rich graphic design history have been overlooked, so far, by design historians who have focused either on European influences or on the current phenomenon of cultural hybridity,” she writes. “Buried in libraries and design journals is evidence of black graphic styles and influences stretching from the New Negro movement of the 1920s through the hip-hop aesthetics of the latest generation of designers. I believe that this material, if uncovered, has the potential to nurture a new generation of designers.”
Harris starts to provide this evidence in her essay, and we’re asking some experts to help us carry it forward. To kick us off, AIGA archivist Heather Strelecki has pulled out some works from our own archives to discuss. But look out for dispatches from the Interference Archive, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the New York Public Library, and more.