BU exhibit shines light on African American graphic designers
Through Feb. 19, Boston University’s Stone Gallery will reframe graphic design curricula all over the country with “As, Not For: Dethroning Our Absolutes.” This historical survey celebrates African American graphic designers who are rarely included in courses or conversations about the medium.
The show was researched and curated by Jerome Harris, a graphic designer, educator and curator out of New Haven, Connecticut. But it was assistant professor of graphic design Mary Yang and a group of graphic design students who brought the show to life and applied the material to the Boston University community.
Junior Ashlie Dawkins says, “To see the work of African American designers and to know that they were there and they were contributing to the overall culture is really important. I think most of us don’t really question who we’re learning about and why we’re learning about them.”
The show features work by artists like PHASE 2, a graffiti artist turned graphic designer who began making promotional materials for art events in the South Bronx during the 1970s. PHASE 2’s work quickly grew from marketing materials to artworks, drawing inspiration from art deco, comic books and his artistic roots in graffiti. Among other artists, W.E.B. Du Bois, Pen & Pixel, Buddy Esquire, Emory Douglas and Eugene Winslow are also included.
Participating students were able to flex their own graphic design muscles while creating signage for the exhibition, both for COVID-19 practices and to provide context and information about each artist.
Junior Gabriela Ferrari says they thought a lot about how the pandemic would affect accessibility. “When it came to designing the exhibition, we were definitely taking that into consideration,” she says. They did so by utilizing the gallery’s large windows to provide information and artwork that’s viewable from the street. Ferrari says, “For people who wouldn’t be able to come in, they get a slice of the show.”
Currently the physical show is only open to Boston University students and faculty, but there’s quite a bit of information accessible from the street and in the windows of the Stone Gallery, and a virtual tour of the exhibition will be live within a month.
The students hope that the show will cause people to consider other areas where Black participants may be left out of the story. “There are longer impacts we wanted the show to have,” says Ferrari. “It’s about inserting these artists into the conversation where they always should have been.”