A history of Black British Design: Who painted Francis Williams?

During my last trip to the V&A, I came across the portrait of Francis Williams, a Jamaican Scholar who was involved – even if tangentially it seems – in numerous spats with racist philosophers such as David Hume.

As my ‘Global Warwickshire’ research project is on Black makers in the 18th-19th centuries, what piqued my interest was the fact that the artist is unknown. Considering how learned black people – especially men like Francis who were still determined to give back to the community – were part of collectives e.g. Sons of Africa and supported each other in various ways, I couldn’t help wonder if the artist might have been another talented black individual, albeit currently nameless.

There’s a lot of discourse about the style in which he’s painted: could it be caricature or emphasising his intelligence?

Instead I decided to look at it from an Africanist/indigenous (Taino) perspective where one often sees an emphasis on the head:

A lot more needs to be learned about Francis Williams and the Black milieu at this time, and as I am no art historian, this isn’t me saying this counts as evidence of a definite link. However, as a Black designer whose entire methodology is centred on looking at things from different perspectives, to question the framing is everything.

 

References of interest

Mathematicians of the African diaspora 

A portrait of an early black writer

Francis Williams the Jamaican Horace

Of Monkeys and Men: The Genesis of a Fabricated Racial Experiment in Edward Long’s History of Jamaica

 

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Service Design in Heritage Day 2

Friday was the final day of the Service Design in Heritage workshops hosted by the Life Rewired Hub at the Barbican.

We once again started off with the ideation session but this time during the mapping data workshop, we were able to try creating a hypothesised user journey and associating touchpoints with different parts of the organisation. It was a really interesting contrast with yesterday’s mapping data workshop where we focussed on taking a deep dive into the structure and associated data. Personally I think it shows the difference that the nature of the ‘How might we…?’ challenge makes. Even though many of the challenges had similarities in concern, the nuances that were added through the ideation process can result in quite significant differences to the nature of the project (something that is totally the norm from a complex systems perspective!)

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Part 3 – What is Speculative / Critical / Fiction / Design?

Came across this great series of posts on speculative critical design as I’m currently putting together notes/thoughts on improving prototyping methodology for complex systems. Do have a read!

Elvia's Blog of Everything

This post is the final part of a trilogy of posts that document my initial (and crude) investigations into Speculative Design and all its friends.

Part 1, is a collage of the snippets that tickled me the most in my initial (online) investigation on Speculative, Critical and Fiction Design.

Part 2, highlights from the book: ‘Speculative everything’ by Anthony Dunne & Fiona Raby.

This post grabs relevant passages from Speculative – Post-Design Practice or New Utopia? available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303686592_Speculative_-_Post-Design_Practice_or_New_Utopia

Exhibition website: http://speculative.hr/en/

Out of all the reading I have done, this is the most complete take on things, perhaps because it looks at all the people and concepts that are mentioned on the other 2 parts and makes the connections between them clear. It also adds a more global lenses to the thing and exposes the western centricity of it all.

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Service Design in Heritage day 1

See, I’m getting better at this insta-documenting lark!

Today was the first iteration of Service Design in [Arts, Culture &] Heritage workshop(s), held at the Barbican Arts Centre in the Life Rewired Hub. Borne out of some great conversations with Kristen Alfaro about common difficulties with designing holistic, inclusive services when working in a Cultural institution – be it a museum, an art gallery/space etc – the goal is to introduce some service design techniques and approaches and providing a space for participants to learn by doing.

Thanks to lessons learned from previous workshops e.g. at Wild Conference, this was split into two workshops, partly to give people more options but also because even doing half a design jam is still quite intense!

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Session 1 focussed on collaborative ideation techniques; session 2 on data/insights mapping and introduction to prototyping.

Much like the neo-mmanwu workshop, the structure was half a presentation type lecture sort of thing and half actually trying out the particular methods that would be used at that point of the design process.

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Trip to V&A – Modernities aboundeth

Had a working from home day and spent the afternoon at the V&A fuelling more thoughts on a presumably upcoming article/talk on digital materiality.

Ventured to the rapid response and modernist collections which I don’t often do. There’s always something fun about analysing the material product through the theoretical framework of the designer/maker in question.

A photo of the display of 'The Toaster Project' by Thomas Thwaite. There is a homemade toaster and the associated casing. Around it are all the tools used to create the casing, to smelt the metals and so on.Really dug Thomas Thwaites ‘The toaster project’. Design often obscures the truth about thermodynamic symmetry – that time and effort saved at one end of a process will incur a cost at another. This is one reason why the question of ethical design or ethical tech is either insultingly trivial or stereotypically complex – the time saved in a washing machine (for example) is taken in the form of excavating, purifying and shaping metal ores to provide circuit components. To reiterate a question asked at Sheffield’s doc fest panel, asking whether a particular example of tech is ethical requires a strong stomach.

The conservation of energy has financial as well as work-based components. The fact that a cheap toaster costs £120k to reproduce by hand speaks volumes about the hidden siphonings throughout the process.

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Reblog: “A nasty man like me coming and spoiling all your fun”: Forced-Masc Fantasies in Daphne du Maurier

Women who are bad at being women ought to be boys; women who are good at being women ought to be boys; in Rebecca, all roads lead to “God, I should have been a boy!!” It’s “I should have been a pair of ragged claws” energy brought to every single lady character from start to finish. Mrs. Danvers, the haunted lesbian who goes by Danny and is married to a ghost? Should have been a boy. Rebecca, the extra-gendered primeval spirit who lives in the ocean and was the greatest interior decorator to ever seduce her cousin? Should have been a boy. The house, Manderley? “I-Should-Have-Been-A-Man-derley.” You, the reader, reading this book? Should have been a boy. You should be a boy with your boy husband and nine boy kids and a boy dog named Jasper and no girls are ever allowed to come over except on Visiting Days.

Market Harborough

Wandered around Market Harborough Friday afternoon after heading back from the festival. I totally missed out on visiting the local museum but I had a three stop train journey home and didn’t want to fall foul of connections related hassle.

Did find this old grammar school. Love the fact it was deliberately built, ‘to keepe the markett people drye in tyme of foule wether’. Now that’s inclusive design practice for you!

A panel at Shambala – Smart drugs: friend or foe?

Friday saw me at Shambala Fest, part of a panel on the topic of ‘smart drugs‘ with Dr. Hannah Critchlow and John Mann from Manchester Metropolitan to discuss how they’re used, who they’re used by, whether they should be used and even where the question of legislation might come into play.

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Urban confusion x/of many

Wandering around the Southbank (was enjoying the markets before finding somewhere to settle to finish off work for the ‘Designing for Environmental Sustainability’ MOOC). If you want to know where my many thoughts on urban futurism or pervasive computing come from, it’s as someone whose been observing – and experiencing – the developments along the Southbank over the past 13 years.

A tunnel through some mixed use buildings on the Southbank that would take one through to the side closest to the bridge to carry on the walk towards the Royal Festival hall. There is a sign at the top that says 'No public access to river walk'

This here is another example of private vs public space to note. From a ‘user experience’ perspective, it’s not particularly great as one gets a sudden last minute warning with no prior context, no affordance (as other similarly built areas are public access). Once again, the private is the intrusion into the public space – this area is very easy to access if you’re taking the back route from the Tate Modern.

Ah, London. There you go again.