As, Not For: ActivatedParticipants explored connections between provided texts and exhibited work creating a zine which pairs curated source materials to reveal new layers of meaning. Guided by the in-gallery readings, participants used the collected materials and texts to collage and reconfigure the work, resulting in a published dialog between the participants of the workshop and the rich history of African American Graphic Design.
As, Not For is an incomplete historical survey of work created by African-American graphic designers over the last century. The selected designers utilize modernist and Bauhausian methods or more intuitive techniques to create work that ranges from commercially accessible design to avant-garde graphic experimentation. These practitioners are absent in too many classroom lectures, and their methods go mostly invisible or uncredited in the field. This exhibition aims to promote the inclusion of neglected Black practitioners and their developed methodologies and to challenge the ubiquity of White and anti-Black aesthetics in our designed world.
This exhibition takes cues from two sources. The first is an obscure multidisciplinary exhibition titled Ritual: Baptismal in Black, The Ritual of The Black Aesthetic, held in Ann Arbor Michigan at the Academy of Creative Thought in 1977. Ritual confronted patrons with the questions, “Can your faculty/staff/students each name five nationally or internationally active Black artists?” and “Do your major art books include the work of major Black artists?” The second source is The New Negro by Alain Locke, which argued that the responsibility of African-American artists was to speak from their point of view in order to reveal personal truths; to speak as Black individuals and not for Black people. Locke envisions a new Black artistic consciousness, one that does not seek to represent or translate their race for the masses, but instead strives for a deeper expression of unique Black subjectivities, in which race “is but an idiom of experience.”
Inspired by these two perspectives on Black artistic production, As, Not For interrogates the institutional exclusion and historical omission of Black graphic design and the implications of that excluded status on Black expressive practice in graphic design and on graphic design and the industry as a whole. The exhibited works are to-scale reproductions of printed ephemera, all of which are authentic representations of Black culture in the time that they were created. Curated in collaboration with The Menial Collection and assistant curator Joshua Gamma, As, Not For: Indexed assumes a condensed, archival shape, which activates the material through interaction and research. The exhibition seeks to question, inspire, activate, and challenge the design community and beyond with the objective of promoting the deep history, design theory and aesthetics of African-Americans.
Jerome Harris is an independent graphic designer and teaching fellow at Maryland Institute College of Art. He holds and MFA in graphic design from Yale University, and a BA from Temple University. His practice focuses on work in arts and culture, with an emphasis on socially responsible and impactful organizations, institutions, businesses, and artists.
As, Not For is Harris’ debut as a curator. A frustration enduced by the lack of visibility of people of color in graphic design history, as well as a lack of representation in the industry lead him on this journey. The research is ongoing, thus the show is evergrowing, as more designers active between 1865 and 1999 are discovered.