African American Designers in Chicago: The Archive, the Gallery, and the Practices of Public History

AHA Session 198
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
(Chicago Cultural Center)
Davarian L. Baldwin, Trinity College
Ashley Finigan, University of Chicago
Chris Dingwall, Oakland University
Julius L. Jones, University of Chicago
This session will take place offsite at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Session Abstract

This session will introduce the key themes and material artifacts that gave shape to the exhibit, African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce, and the Politics of Race, which is currently running at the Chicago Cultural Center. Featuring a range of design work from beauty products to mass-produced furniture, this exhibit celebrates the work of African American designers who made Chicago a center for African American commercial art for much of the twentieth century. Challenging explicit and institutional forms of racism, these designers created stunning visual interpretations of modern Black life and forged new spaces for African American people within—and often against—the powerful currents of American consumer capitalism.

For this session, the gallery space at the Cultural Center will serve as the stage for our active intellectual engagement with the exhibit and its key themes. Here we will push away from the traditional academic panel for a more dynamic conversation among scholars, curators, and the audience. How can archives of graphic design convey histories of race and capitalism in space of a gallery? Guided by the exhibit materials and driven by a quest to think more expansively about the notion of public history, we will combine a mix of expert commentary and audience participation that analyzes design as a critical site for the history of African American culture.
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