Anne Liners, Contributor
The Christensen Center’s student art gallery became the temporary home to a flash of color and a few unfamiliar faces as it welcomed Olivia House’s “Where Are All the Black Designers?” art show, on Monday.
House, a junior at Augsburg majoring in graphic design, was struck in her graphic design and art history classes by the overwhelming whiteness and maleness of the historical figures whose art she and her classmates were taught. Herself a Black woman, House was eager to learn more about artists whose work represented the history and culture of African-American people, whether or not they were featured in her textbooks. To answer the question she found herself wondering far too often, “Where are all the black designers?” House undertook an URGO research project to learn more about the designs of African-American artists during the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements from 1945–1975.
What she found was a dazzling display of incredible design work, determined activism and profound social change. Through investigating the work of eight designers (Archie Boston, Emmett McBain, Emory Douglas, Georg Olden, Herbert Temple, Leroy Winbush, Vince Cullers and Dorothy Hayes), House was able to see how the aesthetic movement introduced black voices into all spheres of the time’s cultural changes: activism, advertising, music, television, academia and more. The art show in the Christensen Center gives details on how work from each of the designers was able to do just that.
As an artist, House took her research one step further. She spent time recreating key works from these designers to feel out their methods and styles. She then combined what she learned with her own personal design style to create eight new patterns, one for each of the artists she researched. These patterns accompany the original works of the designers in House’s show, creating a new aesthetic for the academic study of black designers from the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements.
House’s show has important implications for how we view the history of art and social change. By creating a space to discuss the relationship between black designers and the Civil Rights and Black Power movements — and demanding that the conversation continues — House reminds audiences that artists do not leave behind important social identities when they create. Instead, art reflects the society in which it was created. If we are going to learn about art history, we need a dynamic and diverse history. We need a history that accurately represents all artists.
The show runs through Nov. 1. As House states in the author’s note attached to her show on black designers, “We’ve been here. Many came before us and are here right now. We just aren’t invited. We aren’t seen.” Any member of the Augsburg community would benefit from seeing this important work that is all too often ignored.
This article first appeared in the Friday, October 12 edition of The Echo.