The African identity has been dismantled throughout history and marginalized within design. During slavery, slave masters stripped Africans of their names, languages, culture, and history. Not only this but Africa has continued to be represented as a negative place inhabited by uncivilized people. As a result, people of African descent have been afflicted with the loss of cultural identity and constrained to social assimilation.
For this project, I acknowledge this sociocultural issue by re-appropriating African design and its role in contemporary practice. Historically, African design is most visible only as an inspiration for Western, European art movements. “[B]lack graphic expressions made their debut in the Western world indirectly, through the works of cubist artists such as Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, and Fernand Leger,” as design critic Sylvia Harris writes. “All these artists later acknowledged the significant impact of African art on their work; however, most scholarly writing about cubism has obscured its African roots.” In addition to this erasure, Cubists and other modern artists often misrepresented the cultures that they were gaining inspiration from, creating a larger issue of cultural appropriation.
As a response, Black Bowls is a collection of handmade three-dimensional design made using African pottery techniques. Each bowl is carved with the lotus design found on the 1960’s Cathrineholm enamelware collection designed by Grete Prytz Kittelsen. Kittelsen’s design gained popularity in Scandinavia and the U.S. in the mid-19th century and has been highly sought after ever since. At the same time, it is highly problematic. It appropriates a 12th-century West African mud cloth pattern and relegates it into the realm of Western, consumer goods. By exposing this history, Black Bowls strives to re-appropriate this narrative and achieve a level of perfection that mirrors the experience had by people of African descent when trying to establish their identity within Western art, design, and society at large.
Unvarnished + Varnished