Arts & Culture

Celebrating our Black artists: Olivia House

Taiwana Shambley, A&E Editor

Olivia House is a 21-year-old revolutionary. She is a junior studying graphic design here at Augsburg, and her mission is to give a voice to the voiceless. “When I’m doing my favorite graphic design work,” House says, “it’s work for disadvantaged people, disadvantaged communities or nonprofits.” House understands graphic design as a tool for change, and she works endlessly to answer one of graphic design’s biggest puzzles: Where are all the black graphic designers?

House’s search started as an 11-week summer research project funded by URGO and turned into so much more. House found herself “frustrated” at the abundance of untold stories out there; the project’s goal is to find those buried voices and dig them up. She is graphic design’s archaeologist. Emory Douglas, her favorite graphic designer, was the art director and main illustrator for “The Black Panther” newspaper. He was a member of the Black Panther Party. “I like him because he was one of the only design-activists that I found, and he was super passionate about changing the community. He wasn’t just creating these designs for the community, he was within the community doing that. The community saw him as one of them, and someone who was trying to push forward their message, and that’s all that I wanna be.”

Olivia House discovered her hidden passion for activism after the 2016 presidential election. Rather than curl up and accept her new reality, House found resistance in her art, in graphic design. Before activism, she wanted to use her talents to do basic advertisement work, but now the thought of it “makes me feel empty.” House is also drawn to graphic design work because she needs money. Graphic design is a lucrative field, and House aims to put an end to her family’s generational cycle of not having much.

Her plan after she graduates college is to further her education. She wants to evolve her Black Designers project in grad school. Already having showcased black designers from 1945–1975, her research is currently focused on uncovering the ones from 1975–2000. She wants to continue this work indefinitely. She notes that this could very well be her life’s work. House defines graphic design as “visual communication,” so why stop until every unbreathed name has been whispered, their narratives shouted from the mountaintop and their work is laid neat across every blank surface? In addition to the Black Designers project, House can see herself starting her own advertisement agency that is rich with people of color. The agency would set aside a significant amount of its profits to do pro bono work for grassroots organizations and folks with low income.

House’s brilliance is inspiring. In fact, she has directly inspired some of Augsburg’s graphic design professors to, using her research, intentionally teach the work of black designers in their courses, namely, professors Chris Houltberg and Dan Ibarra. But more importantly, House would love to be an inspiration to black girls everywhere. “It’s so hard to want to be something that you don’t see people that look like you be successful in, and to feel like you’re the first … I want to show [black girls] they can use their skills to do whatever they want, to create whatever they want, to even change the world.”

House’s work is showing at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) from Feb. 17–28. Go, save the date, celebrate Black History Month by supporting a black artist. You can also follow her on instagram @livs_house; she’s always down to connect with other community minded folks.

Olivia House. Photo by Sarah Hanson.

This article was originally published in the Feb. 15, 2019 issue.