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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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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Wild conference workshop: The co-designed city

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This was a workshop hosted at the 2019 Wild Conference which had several goals:

  1. Spread awareness of service design methods to generate ideas and work collaboratively with the community, people from different areas of expertise and departments
  2. Raise questions about how smart cities are developed from a heritage and culture perspective
  3. Raise design questions to be focussed on in broader research regarding community led design practice for smart cities

Description

Part design jam, part hackathon, part improvised performance, this session is a space to explore and prototype the future city, a place where pervasive computing meets social justice; a built environment which puts inclusion and sustainability at the heart of its digital and physical architecture.

As increasingly complex digital and physical infrastructure are developed to support our needs, who gets a say in how they get designed and implemented? What happens when techno-optimism meets the realities of social inequalities? How can we work as designers, technologists, activists and organisers to continually advocate for the needs and perspectives of the people most likely to be ignored and what are the challenges we face in doing so? Following collaborative design practice as we ideate and prototype, test and iterate, the workshop will be an opportunity to learn techniques for generating and embedding community centred requirements, testing at scale and sharing skills with the people we might think we’re designing for.

Will we find a way to the co-designed city of the future? Join us and find out!

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Birmingham Design Festival: Even if we’re all doomed, can we try and design better?

This was a workshop hosted at the 2019 Birmingham Design Festival to:

  1. Spread awareness about using ethical frameworks to better understand the requirements needs of all actors working in a system to ensure ethical design practice
  2. Add to learnings about difficulties faced by designers to work in an ethical manner

Description

Designers are increasingly aware of practices such as inclusive and speculative design in response to the pressing concerns or our time such as systemic oppression, algorithmic injustice, environmental impact and how designers can better acknowledge our role, whether in perpetuating or addressing these issues.

However, it might be easy to talk about radical shifts in practice, but what does all this stuff mean in the day-to-day? Whether a designer-of-one or part of an established consultancy, it can still feel we are barely touching the surface of the platforms we’re designing for and are still under siege from competing business priorities, yet alone be able to meet the demands of ethical and sustainable design practice.

Part design jam, part collaborative learning session, this workshop aimed at designers of all levels, will take you through the steps to create an inclusive design ethics framework and provide a space where we can link up and organise our respective collectives (and selves!) to support each other and take action towards a holistically ethical design practice within our individual contexts.

Original link for reference

 

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Black Futures Conference: Reconfiguring community led smart city design through the Black Quantum Futurist framework

I was really honoured to be part of the Black Futures conference held on 31st May 2019. Here is a link to the video. A transcript of the talk is available below.

Description

As the infrastructure for the smart city of the future is being laid, is it possible to combine insights from community led and indigenous design approaches to counter the examples of historic and contemporary architectural racism and thus provide a strategy for survival in massively connected networks?

Created by Camae Ayewa and Rasheedah Phillips, the Black Quantum Futurist (BQF) framework provides a means to collapse linear time, bringing futurities to the present through communally generated artefacts. In this talk, we will explore how using the BQF framework to incorporate communally generated environmental memory and requirements-space into the design process can be a method for generating equitable and robust futurities of the built environment.

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Museum Engagement as Speculative Design Symposium Proposal conference: Considering futurities beyond the anthropocene through decolonising narratives of natural history collections

Description

The natural history museum provides a unique opportunity to engage people with concepts that are intrinsically associated with commonly depicted futurities in the realm of science fiction and critical design. As a field, natural history is able to demonstrate that the planet we inhabit has been an alien world more than once in its past and will most likely be so again in its future. 

Based on findings from a collaboratively designed guided tour of the refurbished Hintze Hall with a following zine making and discussion workshop at the Natural History Museum of London, this talk will consider how artefacts created by participants, when analysed within framework of Black Quantum Futurism, indicate how an exploration of humanity’s self-inflicted environmental alienation via a decolonialist perspective on the history of the collection, is capable of self-generating small scale futurities in human-environmental relations.

The slides are embedded below and speakers notes are visible.

https://slides.com/sapphonouveau/considering-futurities-beyond-the-anthropocene-through-decolonising-narratives-of-natural-history-collections

You can also watch a video of me presenting this slide deck at the conference 🙂

STIR magazine launch: Of countermemories and recursive futurities

I was invited to speak at the launch of STIR magazine’s new edition on the 14th. It was great getting to chat interesting stuff with folk doing some fantastic stuff in the area of speculative design, history of tech and critical approaches.

Below is the transcript of my talk.

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Service Design Fringe Festival 2018: Creating a Framework for Ethical Design practice

 

This was a workshop hosted at the 2018 Service Design Fringe Festival to

  1. Spread awareness about using ethical frameworks to better understand the requirements needs of all actors working in a system to ensure ethical design practice
  2. Add to learnings about difficulties faced by designers to work in an ethical manner

Description

With a wide array of platforms and connected services, varying user needs and business priorities, how can we navigate tech innovation, business requirements and user needs to create services of value that are solution focussed yet sustainable and don’t compromise security, user data or ethics?

This workshop will be set up as a design jam where we will explore the common pain points and barriers to inclusive and ethical design we might experience in our day-to-day jobs, ultimately creating a prototype framework for ethical design practice that can be adapted for (almost!) any project.

 

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Building without bias – digital technology and architecture for the post-binary: In the shadows of hateful glass

Wednesday I was at the Building centre as part of their ‘Building without bias‘ event, chaired by Vanessa Norwood and curated by Hannah Rozenburg whose research and practice explored methods of tackling and subverting gender bias in architecture.

The production of architectural space in the digital age is increasingly reliant on automated technologies which infer that data is truth. But this ‘truth’ is saturated with the bias and prejudice inherent in contemporary society, with serious implications for the design of our built environment.

Hannah Rozenberg’s award winning research project, Building without Bias, found that artificially intelligent technologies understood ‘architect, steel, cement and screw’ as terms most associated with males, while ‘tearoom, kitchen and nursery’ were among the most female. With algorithmic design methods set to increase, what will be the implications for architecture and our urban fabric?

In the shadows of hateful glass was my contribution very much inspired by certain musings as I wander through Southwark and the rapidly regenerstagnating Southbank. You can read through the slide deck embedded below (or linked in text if that’s not quite working!)

 

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On natural history and the anti-nostalgic

Earlier this week I was part of a really interesting discussion about the question of ‘engagement’ and what it might mean in the space of natural history and speculative imagination.

I’ve been working in the Museum sector for a little over a year and the question of engagement is an intriguing one. Having worked in community based tech and science organisations like MadLab, I guess I just expected the equivalent of citizen science – ‘engagement’ sounded like continuous reciprocal communication with visitors and participatory approaches as default but the realities of funding and organisational structures quickly made it clear it’s not nearly that simple.

The puzzle of engagement remains at every level, especially when considering putting it into practice. Even regarding the purely theoretical, we all have different understandings of ‘engagement’ – is it about getting feedback? Is it ideating with target/non-target audiences? Is it co-production? And what about the intertwined complexities of funding, accreditation and accountability?

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