Tag African American

Funk Upon A Time…

Over 34 years ago, back around 1980 I fell deep (and I mean knee deep) in love with P-Funk. I’m 14 years old and listening to Invicta, one of the few London pirate radio stations around at that time playing pure funk, soul and R’n’B music.

All of a sudden a track comes on that literally blows my mind. The track was called ‘Agony of De-feet’ by Parliament and it’s completely unique sound was to lead me into a whole new universe and lifelong fascination with ‘P-Funk’.

Jon_15

Cut to 2015 and I have just spent the last few months working with George Clinton / Parliament-Funkadelic team and Metropolis Studios on creating the artwork for a very special Album boxset that will be released next month on 18th April 2015.

I have devised the entire concept around it; creating the album name; all the accompanying design artwork and packaging; and the themes which have informed all the press and promotion to come.

The product is the culmination of a fantastic P-Funk weekender at Metropolis Studios, London last year which included a live performance of the band with special guest, Joss Stone; live to vinyl recording and a filmed Guardian Masterclass. The Box set comprises 2 x 12″ vinyl LP’s, 2 x CDs, 1 x DVD and special foldout poster featuring George Clinton in his ‘Uncle Jam’ guise (American MP’s uniform) and next to the “Houses of Parliament-Funkadelic”, wearing a rosette with archetypal P-Funk slogan, “Ain’t no party like a P-Funk party” and a badge with my self-penned slogan, “P-Funk Up Your Government”.

The concept and title for this deluxe box set is ‘CHOCOLATE CITY LONDON: P-FUNK LIVE AT METROPOLIS’. This concept is embellished 1) by the packaging which mirrors that of a luxury box of chocolates with dark, milk and white chocolate 12″ vinyl records and discs. And 2) by portraying London as a ‘Chocolate City; albeit filled with dark, milk and white chocolate citizens.

It has also been devised to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the release of Parliament’s original ‘Chocolate City’ album in 1975. A ground-breaking album where Clinton turned the notion of ‘white flight’ into ‘black takeover’ of America’s cities. Chocolate cities made up by the predominance of a black demographic, surrounded by the vanilla suburbs populated by the white middle and upper classes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chocolate_City_(album)

It is extremely relevant to the UK as it is an election year and will highlight the burgeoning political disillusionment and lack of diverse representation that pervades our society despite London being so richly ethnically diverse in its make-up.

Themes, which are best explored in the lyrics of the original album:

Uh, what’s happening, CC?
They still call it the White House
But that’s a temporary condition, too,
Can you dig it, CC?

And when they come to march on ya
Tell ’em to make sure they got
Their James Brown pass
And don’t be surprised
If Ali is in the White House

Reverend Ike, Secretary of the Treasure
Richard Pryor, Minister of Education
Stevie Wonder, Secretary of Fine Arts
And Miss Aretha Franklin, the First Lady

Are you out there, CC?
A chocolate city is no dream
It’s my piece of the rock and I dig you, CC
God bless Chocolate City and its vanilla suburbs
Can y’all get to that?

I am supa proud to have been involved in such a momentous project, and humbled to have a small place in P-Funk history and discography, which has been both a deeply rewarding experience and a personal dream come true.

It’s been a mutha of a journey that could not have been possible without the unwavering support of my wife, Jane, my family and friends such as my lifelong P-Funk comrade and aficionado, Errol Donald aka Pride; two very special people in particular who made this dream a reality, the incredible Kofi Allen​ and Lois Acton​; and last but certainly not least, my inspirational foster godfather, Dr. Funkenstein aka George Clinton.

Thank you so much for making that 14 year old boy very, very happy.

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4 Corners: An Interview with Lewis Williams

As we approach the close of the US Black History Month celebrations,
am extremely proud to celebrate our 2nd anniversary as a regular monthly column with you.

This month we pay tribute to both occasions with a profile interview with the Chief Creative Officer of one America’s oldest Black advertising agencies and one of the largest multi-cultural marketing firms in the world.

Founded in 1971 by Tom Burrell and then Partner, Emmett McBain, with the principle of forging an authentic and respectful relationship with the African American consumer; tapping into how the Black Aesthetic could also appeal to the general market consumer; and recognizing that there were inherent cultural differences that drove patterns of consumption, provided the launchpad for all Burrell’s communications. Principles, most succinctly phrased at the time by its founder Tom Burrell who stated, “Black people are not dark-skinned white people.”

Now, as part of the Publicis Groupe with over 100 employees, the company’s is steered by two dynamic women of colour, Fay Ferguson and McGhee Williams Osse. And it’s creative legacy remains resolutely intact and as relevant as ever (as its current Black = Human campaign in the wake of #BlackLivesMatter will testify) under the watchful creative direction of Lewis Williams, whose work and life story I have the great pleasure of introducing you to today.

Williams_Lewis_02

Lewis Williams, Executive Vice President / Chief Creative Officer, Burrell Communications

What’s your background?

I’m a southern boy to the core. Born and raised in Macon, Georgia, the home of such musical greats like Little Richard, Otis Redding, Lena Horne and the Allman Brothers Band.

As a kid I always loved to draw and got a lot of encouragement from my community and schools. My first dream was to become an architect, but quickly abandoned that idea for math was not my favorite subject. So I concentrated on the fine art side of things. I had no idea there was an industry called advertising.

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

I graduated from Kent State University with a BFA degree in Graphic Design. Since most design shops were small without many positions open my break came when hired by a San Diego, CA ad agency as a production designer. Which later turned into an art director’s role and my ad career was born.

You can see more at by website and my profile on LinkedIn.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/93108785″>Late Nite Final</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user26991593″>lewforhire</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

What challenges did you face/overcome in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

There’s a few. The first was being born black. The second access and just lacking or knowing anyone or anything about it. This was amplified even more since I am a minority. African Americans were hardly represented in any roles in agencies especially in the creative department. So there was this need to go hard 24/7.

But with a strong work ethic, mentors, faith I’ve made a pretty good go

at it so far. But make no mistake the challenges are still there and always will be.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/92098050″>ToyotaAvalonOnlyTheName3.m4v</a&gt; from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user26991593″>lewforhire</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Who and/or What are your greatest inspirations and influences?

Being black and proud has always been my inspiration. But the primary foundation will always be my parents. My father, a welder helper and my mom a domestic worker. They gave me great values and support that gave me the ability to believe in myself.

One winter day my father once came home, cold and dirty from a hard days work. He looked at me and said…”Son, do good in school so you can get a job working inside.” I never forgot that.

What is your best piece of work or project you are most proud of?

We’ll hopefully I haven’t done it yet. But a pro-bono work I did for the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio some years ago rises to the top. Its mission is to abolish modern day slavery and oppression around the world.

Underground Railroad

What would be your dream job or project?

My dream project would be to open an ad school/agency for kids who lack access through the “normal” channels and kick butt.

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition, and why.

I have to start at the beginning; my parents and family; my church family; my grade and high school teachers. Upward Bound. Bob Kwait was my first boss to see I had a knack for doing ads. Tom Burrell, gave me a shot when others wouldn’t.

Cheryl Berman who gave me the break into the big time at Leo Burnett and mentored me throughout my career there.

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Love what you do. Work hard. Find mentors and listen to them. And never let up. Never.

What’s next for you?

I don’t know. I just know I’m not done.

For more information visit:
http://www.lewforhire.com and http://www.burrell.com

Network:

 

EUROPE:

V&A ART & EXISTENCE | Lecture Series:

The Seamstress, Designer and the Model explore the role of the seamstress in black cultural life in the Caribbean, the results of emigration and displacement, and compare patterns of production in the Caribbean and Britain. Thursday 5 March 2015 14:30 – 16:00 in The Clore Study Room. For more information click here

The Rise and Development of Black Print Culture uses the work of Joel Augustus Rogers (1880- 1966) as a case study, examine the role of the journalist, political activist, artist, and publisher in countering racist stereotypes, by creating a black led perspective on print media, collected on people from the African Diaspora within books, newspapers, hand bills and pamphlets. Thursday 12 March 2015 14:30 – 16:00 in The Clore Study Room. For more information click here

Calypso and the Black British Experience. The lyrics of Calypso were highly political as they were contentious, and dealt with a variety of topics such as poor housing; gaining Independence and the Commonwealth; African, Caribbean and British affairs; the wars and economic status. Consider the changes that have occurred since these decades, and revisit “London is the Place for Me” through Alexander’s “Windrush” song, that contrasts with Kitchener’s rather rose tinted view of Britain in 1948. Talk led by Alexander D. Great, Musician and Educator. Thursday 19 March 2015 14:30 – 16:00 in The Clore Study Room. For more information click here


THE CARIBBEAN:

The New Waves! Institute was established in 2011 and has since gathered 200 dance artists, teachers, and scholars in the Caribbean. Each year, participants, staff and a renowned faculty of international artists form a supportive and inspiring community that has created a unique space for dialogue, networking, experimentation and collaboration. The program has been made possible through a major partnership with and held at the University of Trinidad & Tobago / Academy for Performing Arts, within the National Academy for Performing Arts in Port of Spain in 2011, 2012, and 2013. In 2014, the New Waves! Institute was held in Jacmel & Port au Prince, Haiti. New Waves! returns to UTT/APA for its 5th Anniversary, from 22 July to 1 August 2015. Applications due from April 3rd click here for details

 

THE U.S:

TITUS KAPHAR: THE JEROME PROJECT is composed of small-scale works that engage with contemporary social issues, particularly the criminal justice system. In 2011, Kaphar began searching for his father’s prison records. When he visited a website containing photographs of people who have recently been arrested, he found dozens of men who shared his father’s first name, Jerome, and last name. The artist was influenced by the writings of Michelle Alexander and William Julius Wilson on the prison-industrial complex and the use of policing and imprisonment by the US government as a means to address economic, social and political problems. The panels are based on police portraits of the men named Jerome that Kaphar found online, which represent only a portion of each man’s identity yet are preserved in the public record. Although each work depicts an individual, this series represents a community of people, particularly African American men, who are overrepresented in the prison population. Runs until 8 March 2015 at the Studio Museum of Harlem

 

AFRICA:

DESIGN INDABA has become a respected institution on the global creative landscape, based on the foundation of our annual Festival that has attracted and showcased the world’s brightest talent since 1995. The annual Design Indaba Festival in Cape Town now also includes the highly popular Design Indaba ExpoFilmFestMusic Circuit, multiple Simulcast versions of the Conference in cities around South Africa, and other special events. Go to our Festival page for the latest programme or download our Festival App for updates. Festival runs until 1 March 2015.

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

 

Salaam Malcolm: 50th Anniversary 1965-2015

1990. ‘Malcolm X Fever’ is at fever pitch.

There is a plethora of Malcolm X iconography inspired primarily through the music of legendary, afrocentric and conscious rap/hip hop groups such as, Public Enemy and the X-Clan who had just dropped their debut album, ‘To the East Blackwards’; the films and merchandising of Spike Lee through his newly opened store in Brooklyn, Spike’s Joint; and the bold, fresh and funky fashion of Cross Colours.

These were ‘X-citing’ times. But as with any popular cultural movement, it can reach its point of overload and for many people, like myself who were into Malcolm-X for more historical and political reasons, the seeming reduction of him to that of purely a fashion icon was a bridge too far.

That point of overload was to literally hit home to me, in my locale of East Sheen in south-west London, when suddenly I’d see all these white middle and upper class kids in the local high street, rocking their Malcolm X and Public Enemy t-shirts.

In hindsight, I wish I could maybe have viewed it less cynically and accepted it for what it was, which whatever the reasons, was a mainstream, multi-cultural adoption of Malcolm X, which would have been utterly inconceivable in his lifetime.

Instead, to be honest, I was more consumed with mixed feelings of cultural appropriation and a desire to push a more meaningful adoption of Malcolm X, his teachings, his politics and his philosophies.

However, these feelings inspired me to design one of my first ever t-shirt designs, which I created to recognise the 25th anniversary of Malcolm’s death in 1965.

Malcolm RIP XXV © Jon Daniel

I deliberately took a less populist approach, using his muslim name of ‘El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz’. And a typographic rather than image-led visual treatment, using an excerpt from the eulogy read at Malcolm’s funeral by the Black actor and civil rights activist, Ossie Davis.

The design, which I initially sold on the street at the Notting Hill Carnival in 1990, and then afterwards at a few select stores around London, also proved to be a powerful creative catalyst.

It forged within me a new mindset to use design and creativity as a tool to promote the rich historical legacy of Black heroes and heroines from the African diaspora, and to take a progressive and pro-active stance to issues that affected the Black community.

As-Salaam-Alaikum.

 

4 Corners: An Interview with Lowell Thompson

Advertising or Adland’, used to be a home to a plethora of interesting and dynamic characters. I’m not talking about the smooth, elegant types that grace our TV screens in shows such as Mad Men;but the weird, wonderful and downright eccentric ones that featured at the heart of many a tale and legend told in industry pubs, clubs and awards ceremonies. I guess it was a symptom of the (less politically correct) times of the ‘50s and ‘60s and the nature of the job and the people it attracted. But as the civil rights era kicked in, what about the black creatives working in the industry? Tales of black art directors and copywriters tend to be few and far between. This may be again symptomatic of the times. But also possibly I suspect due to a desire to blend in and get their head down and do the job, rather than be loud, extrovert and stand out in the crowd. Our featured creative this month is no such wallflower and is a genuine character. He has successfully managed to navigate a career in the turbulent waters of American advertising, creating some uncompromising work in his inimitable style, winning awards along the way and lived to tell the tale. So here it is in his own words. Over to you Lowell Thompson…

Lowell

Lowell Thompson, advertising executive, author and artist

What’s your background?

Background? What background? I got into the ad game the old- fashioned way: luck, pure luck. Just like most of the “white” folks. But seriously, the only thing I had that, in hindsight, made me a future ad man was a little talent for drawing and painting and even smaller one for writing. I’m from a poor family of 11 kids, but luckily, two parents, and spent most of my young years just barely making it in school, although I was told I had an above average IQ and read well for my age. I also liked to draw. Having 10 brothers and sisters gave me lots of folks to practice my portrait drawing on. It took me forever to finally get out of Wendell Phillips High School (on Chicago’s Southside) and only then because a few art teachers took pity on me and literally put me in a class by myself so that I could gain enough credits to graduate. I had won a scholarship to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. But I dropped out after six months because I needed to make money to help the family (and I didn’t feel particularly at home in the fine art world). After about a dozen jobs, I lucked into the ad game at age 20 (in 1968).

King

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

I happened to be in the right place, at the right time with a little talent. If I remember right, I got into the big-time ad biz almost exactly three months after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on 4 April 1968. And after the nationwide riots that followed. Corporate America suddenly got interested in colored folks in anything but menial positions. I would have been lucky to have gotten a job in the mail room before that. Just a decade or so before, these giant ad agencies were still getting used to the idea of hiring Italians and Jews. I was actually working at the Chicago Tribune newspaper at the time, as an office boy in the creative services department. I’d been promised a promotion to be a keyline/pasteup artist.  They had already let me draw black and white fashion drawings for their Muriel Mundy account. (I’m amazed I still remember the name. I haven’t thought about this stuff in over 45 years). Anyway, when I got knocked out of the promotion because of a merger with Chicago’s American, another Trib-owned paper, I went looking for a new job during my vacation. On the very last day, I went to the Urban League, a social service agency focusing on civil rights and helping “Negroes” get into corporate America, The guy there told me about a summer intern position at Foote, Cone & Belding Advertising agency. I didn’t really know what an ad agency did, but I went to the interview. Luckily their offices were in a sleek, Mies Van Der Rohe knockoff skyscraper right next to the classic, gothic Tribune building, so I could sneak out to an interview during my lunch break. The personnel man at FCB was a guy who made Don Draper and his boss on Mad Men look like plumbers. Slicked back silvery white hair and even whiter teeth. He was so smooth, he could sell fins to sharks. He welcomed me into his big, wood paneled corner office overlooking the Chicago River as if I was his long lost runaway slave son. After I found out exactly what FCB did, I knew I’d found a career. 

Sears

What challenges did you face/overcome in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

Funny thing, I don’t remember ever having any blatant, racist incidents. But by that time in the USA, “whites” up north had learned to keep their racist training in check, only bringing it out around friends and family. For about eight years in the US, being a card-carrying racist wasn’t cool. Of course, I’m sure there was talk behind the scenes, in the meetings, bars and clubs where I wasn’t invited, where they decided just how high they wanted me to go… and how close to any client they wanted me to get. I never really realised the extent of this until I was way beyond the business and started reading and thinking about the sea-change that happened in America between 1960 and 1970. But now I remember one seemingly harmless, even personally positive, incident. A very respected, award-winning veteran art director at Needham, Harper & Steers told me when we were working on a creative gang-bang, “you know Lowell, you think like a white guy” (or words to that effect). I took it as the compliment I think he meant. But looking back, it shows just how conditioned “whites” were to think of er…ummm… “colored” folks as lacking in… er… uh… cognitive skills. I was probably one of the first and few “blacks” he’d ever been in a room with who wasn’t sweeping the floor or freshening his drink.

Sears

Who and/or What are your greatest inspirations and influences?

1. My uncle Raymond, whom my mother always said was where I most likely got my artistic talent, although I don’t remember seeing anything he did. She told the often told African American story of him sending his drawings to apply for a job and being enthusiastically hired until he was stopped at the receptionist’s desk when he showed up in “black” skin.
2. My mother would also mention the only African American artist she’d heard of, E. Simms Campbell, a cartoonist extraordinaire who went to school in Chicago and whose work was appearing in Esquire, a leading men’s mag.
3. Henry Ossawa Tanner, the great African American artist.
4. Vince Cullers and Emmett McBain. They were the first two African American admen who were doing ground-breaking work in the late ‘60s, when I first got into the biz. Vince Cullers had started his agency in the mid-‘50s and by the time I heard of him, he claimed to have the oldest continuously operating African American ad agency in the USA. Emmett was an amazing art director and creative character. Together they did the first “conceptually black” ads I’d seen. They also did a poster promoting the agency that ranks with the boldest, most elegant pieces of communication art ever executed by man – in my humble opinion.
5. Georg Olden, as an example of great talent, the pitfalls of believing your own press releases and of becoming a pseudo-EurAm.
6. Harry Belafonte, the singer/actor/activist who put his money and his life where his mouth is. He shows that just because you’re personally successful, you don’t have to abandon your people or your principles.

Sing

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

At the risk of sounding like a big-headed, pompous, self-promoting egomaniac, I think my best piece of work is me. Looking back to where I came from, I see gradually creating this character I’ve become at 67. The project of staying (relatively) sane, positive and optimistic in this insane, negative and pessimistic nation and world ain’t easy. It’s not for wimps. Although I’ve done work that has won the Clio (the “Oscar” of advertising in the USA), Cebas (the “Oscar” of “black” advertising), been featured in Print and Communications Arts and that I was pretty happy with at the time, little of my ad work for the big agencies lived up to my loftiest expectations. In fact, the stuff I like the best was almost all done for freelance, personal or not-for-profit projects where I made little or no money.  The work I did for Partnership Against Racism (PAR) is an example. I created this not-for-profit in the mid 1990s to be a communications agency creating ads and commercials designed to counteract the effect of 400 years of white supremacy. Later, I was joined by Father Derek Simons, a “white”, British-born Catholic priest and we created the “Diversity is Beautiful” poster and we co-hosted a radio show titled, “The Race Question” where we argued about the issue and hosted guests. It was fun.  But even more fun was when I wrote my first book, ‘“WHITE FOLKS”: Seeing America Through Black Eyes’. The title was tailor-made for advertising and controversy. My “I Love White Folks*” poster here is one of my favorite pieces. The radio spot I wrote was so hot, they refused to run it on WVON, the legendary African American-owned  station. It began with a brotha shouting “White Folks for sale! White Folks for sale!”. I still don’t fully understand why they were afraid to run it it…

WF

What would be your dream job or project?

I’m actually working my dream job right now. I’m retired from the day-to-day business, so I can spend my time, energy, talent and experience to save the world – starting right here in the USA in Chicago.  In fact, I just completed one example of what I want to do on a bigger stage. I call it my AllMericans Portrait Project. I’ve attached an example of the portrait, which I began in a “pop-up” studio on a corner in Buena Park, the southern portion of the neighborhood I live in, Uptown, Chicago. My purpose is to document a neighborhood in Chicago (still considered by many to be the most segregated big city in the USA) where people of many different “races”, ethnicities, incomes, gender choices, mental and physical abilities, etc. live in relative harmony.  This is just one small example of my dream job. I plan to create a communications company I’ve named Humane Communications that promotes humane ideals and values. My theme line is the kicker, “It’s like an ad agency… for the human race”. It basically takes my old Partnership Against Racism idea and expands and twists it to be a positive force for the future instead of just a corrective of the USA’s heinous racial history.

Kemper

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition, and why.

Vince Cullers, who started one of the first successful African American ad agencies, which was based in Chicago for about 40 years, until his death. Emmett McBain, who was one of the first art directors at a major ad agency, J. Walter Thompson, in the early 60s. By the time I got into the business, he was the head art director at Vince Cullers Advertising and helped create some of the classic ads of the day. He later co-founded Burrell-McBain (now Burrell Communications), which was for decades the largest African American-owned agency in the USA. Joey Randall, who worked in New York and Chicago and was the creator of “Street Song” the TV commercial Burrell advertising did for Coca Cola that put the agency on the creative map. Harry Webber, an art director/copywriter, and a legend in his own mind, but deservingly so. Many of his claims of creative stardom would be unbelievable if they weren’t largely backed up by fact. He worked mostly in New York in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He won many creative awards and gets credit for co-creating the “I’m Stuckon BandAids” and the “Thanks, I Needed That” campaign for Mennen in the 80s.  I met him when I took his office at Leo Burnett in Chicago in 1978. Alma Hopkins was a copywriter who started in the business about the same time as I did. She worked at a few EurAm agencies before I convinced her to come to Burrell in 1979. Although I left by January 1980, she stayed, becoming senior VP and creative chief. James Glover is a copywriter who wrote and helped produce so great commercials for McDonald’s, United Airlines and other big clients. He’s still working at a creative director. Phil Gant was a copywriter who became one of the few AfrAmerican top creative executives at a major ad agency. He ran the creative department of BBDO Chicago for years.

Miller

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

1. Find out what you’re good at.
2. Decide if you want to do it for a living.
3. Develop your skill, whether you see immediate job prospects or not.
4. Find out as much as you can about the realities of the business.
5. Keep your fingers crossed. Luck is real.

Top Dog

What’s next for you?

My next book, “Mad Invisible Men”, then world creative domination. I have so many “save the world” projects I can’t even list them all. But one that I hope will incorporate many of them is my Humane Communications project. I bought the domain about a year ago, Humanecom.com and I think the theme line explains what I want to do pretty well, “It’s like an ad agency…for the human race”. Please stay tuned.

For more information visit madinvisiblemen.com

Network:

EUROPE:

GLENN LIGON ‘CALL AND RESPONSE’ Camden Arts Centre until 11 January 2015. For his exhibition at Camden Arts Centre, the first in a UK public gallery for the celebrated American artist, Ligon presents a new series of large paintings based on the 1966 seminal taped-speech work, Come Out, by Minimalist composer Steve Reich. Come Out is drawn from the testimony of six black youths arrested for committing a murder during the Harlem Race Riot of 1964. Known as the ‘Harlem Six’, the case galvanised civil rights activists for a generation, bringing to attention police brutality against black citizens. Echoing Reich’s overlapping repetition of words and phrases, Ligon’s silkscreen paintings overlay the words to create slowly shifting and rhythmic effects. For more info visit the website

WANGECHI MUTU is on a formidable tear. After presentations in Durham, N.C., Brooklyn, N.Y., Miami and currently Evanston, Ill., her first U.S. survey remains underway as her second solo exhibition at Victoria Miro opens in London. Based in Brooklyn, educated in Britain and born Nairobi, Kenya, Mutu’s international pedigree is reflected in her otherworldly collage works, drawing on African mythology, colonialism, feminism and contemporary perceptions of black women and their bodies. ‘Nguva na Nyoka’ is at Victoria Miro Gallery, London until 19 December 2014. For more information visit the website

THE U.S:

Speaking of People: Ebony, Jet and Contemporary Art explores the ways contemporary artists use Ebony and Jet as a resource and as inspiration in their practices. Published by Johnson Publishing Company for over sixty years, both magazines are cultural touchstones for many African Americans and often represent a commonality between people of diverse backgrounds. Exhibition runs til Mar 8, 2015 at Studio Museum of Harlem.

For more information visit the website

THE CARIBBEAN:

The Martinique Jazz Festival 2014, now in it’s 20th year, features an array of jazz and world music artists from the Caribbean and around the world. For more information visit the website

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

4 Corners: An interview with Emory Douglas

As a black teenager growing up in East Sheen, I was inspired by the historical contribution of the Black Power and Civil Rights Movement in the US, and influenced by leading black political figures and community activists such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King; Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown; Huey Newton and Bobby Seale – and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in particular. The Black Panthers’ base in Oakland, California was a universe away from the genteel, suburban niceties of south west London, but as an aspiring artist and designer I could not help but be captivated by the powerful and evocative imagery they projected and the striking graphic designs they created. Both the medium and the message had a profound influence on my development as a creative professional and certainly instilled a desire to use design as a tool to promote and tackle social issues and human rights issues that continues to this day. The Black Panthers’ pioneering political visual communications were the handiwork of a truly gifted and visionary man, who served the party as Minister for Culture from 1967 to 1980. A man who in my wildest dreams I could never have imagined that I would one day have the honour of interviewing and the pleasure of introducing you to today. Brothers and Sisters please pump your black, gloved fists up for Mr Emory Douglas.

Emory Douglas

Emory Douglas, Revolutionary Artist, Designer and Minister of Culture of The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (1967-80).

What’s your background?

My art background is basically as a self-taught artist with a minimum of professional training. I attended City College in San Francisco off and on from around 1964 to 1966 and majored in Commercial Art.
That educational practice introduced me to the basic graphic designing elements such as figure drawing, sketching, illustration drawing, lettering, layout and design, pre-press production, the offset printing process, the basic animation process and how to critique and evaluate one’s work. This was my only academic graphic design training prior to my actual on-the-job training.Free+All+Political+PrisonersSource: Emory Douglas

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

As a youth I was in and out of detention centers, I will say for illegal activity not sanctioned by the state. While there I would do mostly landscape art – nothing with any social meaning. A year or so after I got out I decided to attend City College of San Francisco. The councillor at the detention center heard of my decision to attend college and suggested I take up art. When I went to enroll I mentioned to the college councillor
I would like to major in Art and he suggested I major in the Commercial Arts, which I did. Thereafter the whole idea of my going to school was to try and break into commercial art by becoming a designer, art director or illustrator. I heard of people who were making good money in those fields so I wanted to join them. However,  after a while I began to see and realise that there was really only an elite few that made it and became successful and they were mostly the white students, particularly the ones who had relatives or close family friends with ties to the commercial art field. While at college I developed my graphic art skills to a professional level, where they would send me out on job assignments. I worked at a silk-screen factory where I learned the silk-screen printing process. I also worked at a downtown store in San Francisco where they sold fine wine goblets and silverware doing layout, cutting and pasting of advertisements and preparing display signs for their store window displays. Also there were paying jobs that came in from various departments at the College for graphic design work such as sign lettering and technical illustrations where I along with other art students who had developed our skills to a basic professional level were offered these jobs.Malcolm+X+SpearsSource: Emory Douglas

What challenges did you face in achieving your ambitions to break into the industry?

Certainly there were challenges, because this was at the height of the Civil Rights movement. Firms weren’t hiring blacks, so it was particularly difficult for African- Americans and there were many racial biases and obstacles to overcome. But at the same time that’s how I got involved in political artwork. For example, the whole time I attended City College there was only me and sometimes one other black person who were enrolled in the Commercial Art classes of about 20 students per class. Also there were graphic styles that I created which one of the instructors expressed to me wasn’t commercial enough, so for a while I had to go along with that whole framework of how they programme you to produce artwork for your portfolio with a certain commercial style that was considered acceptable when it came time to looking for a job or going for job interviews. The graphic styles I personally used I had to just put that to the side until later on. I remember one time as a class assignment to create a magazine layout I created one similar to EBONY magazine (the most prominent African-American magazine of the time) and the teacher pulled me aside and said how much he appreciated what I had done. But he added that to be honest with me, it would be another 10 years or so before ideas like mine would be accepted. Eventually it was the Civil Rights, and human rights pressures and campaigning against discrimination that began the process for black people getting into the commercial arts industry during that period.Paper+BoySource: Emory Douglas

Who and what are your greatest inspirations?

As a youngster growing up it was my mother – she was legally blind and worked hard as a single parent.
 There was an artist I knew named Charles Bible, he lived downstairs from where I lived and he would mass-produce multiple paintings of the same image of Malcolm X every year for the anniversary celebrations of Malcolm’s life. I would talk to him about his assembly-line production process and his painting technique and he would explain both of them to me. The information he shared became very helpful when I began doing some portrait paintings over the years. There was also the Black Arts Movement (BAM), which I made artistic contributions to during and prior to my joining The Black Panther Party in late January 1967. Then there was this calendar I would see as a child at my aunt’s house. Every year it featured artwork by a black artist named Charles White, which had a real impact on me. Politically, I was inspired by the politics and artwork that was being created at the time – particularly the work of the Cuban poster artists of OSPAAL (Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America), and from China, Vietnam, the Anti-War movement and Palestine. The Cuban artists used to remix some of my artwork they saw in the Black Panther Newspaper and created some amazing solidarity posters that they would share around the world – that was very exciting and inspiring.End+to+RobberySource: Emory Douglas

What is the project you are most proud of?

I would say the best piece of work would have to be a volume of work that maybe tells a story – and therefore it would be my body of work for The Black Panther Party. But there are also volumes of work that I’m doing today that I feel strongly about and that I am pleased and satisfied to be able to make a statement on current issues and in a more contemporary way than what I did back then.Free+LandSource: Emory Douglas

What would be your dream project?

If I were younger, my dream job would probably as the head of a company, art department or organisation dealing with basic human rights and enlightening and educating people and using art as a language to communicate with people.Black+PantherSource: Emory Douglas

Who in your field do you believe deserve credit or recognition?

There are many, therefore I prefer not to drop names because I’m sure to remember later that I forgot to mention many others I should have, who are also amazing artists and great communicators through their art.ObamaSource: Emory Douglas

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Whatever you do stay focused and practise your craft. And if you’re doing political artwork or social commentary art make sure you know the basic politics of whatever social issues that may concern you. Have fun! Don’t do it because it’s a fad, do it because you believe in it and understand that the creative process will be an ongoing life long journey.Endangered+SpeciesSource: Emory Douglas

What’s next for you?

To continue doing what I’m doing, creating artwork that deals with quality of life issues, basic human rights violations and concern for the struggles and challenges of oppressed peoples in this world.

For more information visit www.emorydouglasart.com.

Big thanks to Maurice Cherry of Revision Path for his help in facilitating this interview.

Network:

EUROPE:

‘RETURN OF THE RUDEBOY’ is an original exhibition created and curated by prolific photographer and filmmaker Dean Chalkley and creative director Harris Elliott, which showcases a sartorial subculture through a series of portraits, installations and set pieces. Runs until 25 August 2014 at Somerset House, Terrace Rooms, Strand London WC2R 1LA. Admission FREE. For more information visit www.somersethouse.org.uk.

KERRY JAMES MARSHALL: PAINTING AND OTHER STUFF is an exhibition of the work of the American artist across venues in Madrid and Barcelona. The exhibition is divided between two venues. At the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid there is a focus on historical works and paintings, while the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona includes more recent works, not only in painting but also in other media such as drawing, photography, video and installation. Exhbitions run until 26 October 2014. For more information visit www.fundaciotapies.org.

THE CARIBBEAN:

40 VOICES is an exhibition encompassing film, photography and an art installation in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Culturama event in Nevis Culturama (Nevis ). Through open, emotive and unguarded interviews of forty Nevis residents, 40 Voices aims to create an empowering film that will capture a snapshot of the feelings, opinions and attitudes of Culturama into one seamless loop. The exhibition runs from Sunday 27 July – Sunday 10 August 2014. For more information visit www.culturamanevis.com or chantimedia.com.

THE US:

DESIGN FOR SOCIAL IMPACT, an exhibition offering a look at how designers, engineers, students, professors, architects and social entrepreneurs use design to solve the problems of the 21st century. The exhibition features projects that address a variety of challenges in the areas of Shelter, Community, Education, Healthcare, Energy and Food & Water. Each category highlights solutions taking place locally, as well as ways in which these challenges are being addressed around the world. The exhibition is on view at Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA) through to 3 August 2014. For more information visit www.museumofdesign.org. 

AFRICA:

21 ICONS: PORTRAIT OF A NATION, a poignant and inspiring multi-media exhibition by 21 Icons and Mercedes-Benz South Africa, opened on Youth Day, 16 June 2014 at the Museum of African Design in the Maboneng Precinct, Johannesburg. In celebration of 20 Years of democracy, the two-month long exhibition features portraits and short films of 21 of South Africa’s greatest social masters including Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Sophia Williams De Bruyn, Ahmed Kathrada, Nadine Gordimer and George Bizos. 21 Icons: Portrait of a Nation: Presented by Mercedes-Benz South Africa will be on exhibition at MOAD for the first time, through to 17 August 2014. For more information, please visit www.moadjhb.com/21icons.

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

4 Corners: An Interview with Malene B

This month we take a slight departure into a different field of design. Carpet design to be exact. Dynamic, bold, colourful and contemporary textile creations inspired by the designer’s travels, far and wide, they have made their mark on the floors of a host of prestigious residential and commercial environments around the globe. Born in The Bronx, New York, of West Indian parentage, our profiled award-winning designer now runs her business from Brooklyn and is a regular guest speaker at design and interiors events on the global cultural calendar. So without further ado, over to you Malene B. The floor is yours.

Malene B

Malene: carpet designer/president and design director of Malene B Carpets.

What’s your background?

My heritage is Caribbean-American; my mother is from the island of St. Vincent and my father is Jamaican. I’ve always had an interest in colour, painting and design since childhood. Eventually, my interest turned into passion and I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, graduating with a BFA in Textile Surface Design and an Associate Degree in Fashion Illustration.

Malene B

How did you get started?

After college, I worked for a textile importer and then a carpet manufacturer.  From the carpet company, I learned all aspects of their business and decided to create a custom carpet company to showcase my specific design aesthetic.

What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

One of the biggest challenges I faced was starting a business during a recession. We overcame this by staying focused, keeping a positive attitude and relying on my aggressive networking skills. Our company’s motto: Since we’re starting at the bottom, there is only one direction to go…UP!!!

Malene B

Who and what are your greatest inspirations and influences?

I am most inspired by the people and places encountered during my many travels. Those experiences are the essence of my brand and because of them, I am able to share a part of their life story through my designs.

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

My collection titled Signature. It was the first carpet group in the Malene B brand.  It debuted five years ago and it still continues to ‘wow’ people.

Malene B

What would be your dream project?

My dream is to design a collection for industry giants like Anthropologie and Crate and Barrel, and to work with David Adjaye on residential and commercial projects…His work is beautiful and visionary.

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition.

All the owners and designers in the rug business. They continue to be a wonderful source of support. To name a few; Tania Johnson, Inigo Elizalde, Jan Kath, Judy Ross and Warp & Weft.

Malene B

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t be a follower…create your own path!

What’s next for you?

Its time to expand into other product categories. I’m working on a crowd-fundraising campaign, which will help finance the development of new products. The campaign will allow customers to pre-order specific limited-edition items and the collection will consist of beautiful theme driven pillows, throws, carpets, tile and more.

Malene B

For more information visit www.maleneb.com.

Network

EUROPE:

‘BRITISH’ is a photography exhibition that explores the multi-cultural nature of British identity by Zadoc Nava. Taking his own iconic ‘British’ T-shirt, a celebration of multicultural ‘Britishness’, as his starting point the fashion designer Wale  Adeyemi commissioned photographer Zadoc Nava to document the changing face of Britain. Using the street as his studio, Nava has produced a series of compelling portraits that reflect the diverse nature of contemporary British society. Runs until 29 June 2014 at The Print Room, 34 Hereford Road, London, W2 5AJ. Admission FREE. For more information visit www.the-print-room.org.

THE CARIBBEAN:

REGGAE SUMFEST 2014 will be the 22nd annual staging of the festival in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Staged annually during the third week of July, the festival is now an established staple on the Jamaican entertainment calendar, attracting patrons from all across the globe, as far away as Australia, Europe, the USA and the African continent.  Festival runs from July 13-19, 2014.  More information at at www.reggaesumfest.com 

THE US:

A SUBTLETY OF THE MARVELOUS SUGAR BABY. Creative Time presents the first large-scale public project by Kara Walker. Sited in the sprawling industrial relics of Brooklyn’s legendary Domino Sugar Factory, Walker’s physically and conceptually expansive installation responds to the building and its history. The exhibition is open until 6 July, Fridays 4-8 pm, Saturdays and Sundays noon to 6 at Domino Sugar Factory, South 1st Street @ Kent Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY. For more info visitcreativetime.org/projects/karawalker/

AFRICA:
Zanzibar International Film Festival 2014. Recognised as the largest film and arts event in East Africa, the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) offers a themed selection of African and international cinema. The festival also features a series of performances, discussion channels, workshops, exhibitions, live music concerts, cultural tours and workshops. This year’s theme is ‘A Common Destiny’, and the selection of films will be chosen depending on their power to ignite common experiences in their diverse audiences by reinforcing awareness of shared experiences, history and culture. Ngome Kongwe (Old Fort), Zanzibar City, Zanzibar. For more information, please visit www.ziff.or.tz

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

4 Corners: An Interview with Mo Woods

If race equality progressed at the same rate as technology, we’d be living on an amazing planet right now.

Yet, here we are in 2014 and there is little doubt that the playing field for people of colour looking to break into the world of design and visual communications is still not level. However, our profile designer this month is one man who has managed to break through and scale heights that befit his 6’ 10” frame.

A self-confessed perfectionist, and prodigious college basketball talent, whether working previously with the likes of design legends such as Pentagram or now as senior visual designer with technology giant Yahoo, he always brings his best game. And as co-founder of a pioneering social project that is helping introduce under-priviledged, inner-city kids to the world of design, he’s someone we can all certainly look up to.

Please be upstanding for Mr Maurice Woods.

Maurice Woods

Maurice ‘Mo’ Woods, graphic designer, co-founder of the Inneract Project and senior visual designer, Yahoo.

What’s your background?

My roots are in visual communication design. I received a Bachelors of Fine Arts Degree and a Master’s Degree from the University of Washington in Seattle. This is a great programme that taught me crucial fundamental skills I still use today. If you are at all serious about being in this business it is imperative that you find a good school with solid teachers that push you and have a good mix of other talented students.

CultureBusThe CultureBus logo was designed while at Pentagram

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

Well, my trajectory was not typical. I got into design via basketball. I was granted a basketball scholarship to play at the University of Washington, and after realising I might not make it to the NBA, I had to decide a major. My mother actually suggested I try graphic design, because I ‘liked to draw’. From her suggestion I took an intro to graphic design course. After the first class, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to be a designer.

What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

I don’t think I thought of getting into the profession as a challenge. I think I had a personal challenge, and that was to prove that I could be good enough to work with the best designers in the business. I guess you can say that basketball had a profound influence on me. In a way, I think it was the competitiveness that sports ingrains in your spirit that makes you want to win, all the time. I was that way, although I never expressed it. It was more of an inside goal I had to reach. I would do anything I could to achieve the success I believed I could achieve.

Miles+DavisEnvisioning Blackness in American Graphic Design Poster Series, 27” x 40”

Who and what are your greatest inspirations and influences?

I have a ton of influences. There have been a lot of people who inspire me, not just creatively, but through encouragement, sincerity and advice. I would say that some of my biggest design influences are Doug Wadden, Tony Gable, Kit Hinrichs and Chris Ozubko. I became very close to all of these guys and collectively, I learned a lot of what I now know through them. Doug Wadden and Chris were teachers of mine in both undergraduate and graduate school. They always gave me good solid advice, pushed me to move forward, and were a part of my growth in key phases of my career. Tony Gable, from a creative standpoint, was the first African American designer I encountered. Ironically enough, I stumbled across Tony’s work as I was entering into the school of design. I saw a poster he did at a poster shop. I asked the owner of the shop and he told me about Tony, and I connected to him through this way. Much like my trajectory into design, key experiences in my life I believe shaped the career path I have now. Tony, ‘til this day is still a good friend. Kit Hinrichs was an important person. I learned a lot from him. He probably does not even know it. I always tried to learn from everything down to the way he presented, to his incredible work ethic. Kit has been in the business for a very long time and ‘til this day still is usually the first one in the office and one of the last people to leave. I found that to be extremely inspirational and a trait I felt I needed to learn from. Especially from someone who has had a career as good as he has. 

NikeFrom a series of concepts developed for a project for Nike on an all-black basketball team that thrived in the United States in the period between 1904, when basketball was first introduced among African Americans on a wide scale organized basis, to 1950,

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

Hmmm, I get asked this a lot and the answer is none. I am actually very bad with this. There is not a single project that I feel was just right. I am a bit of a perfectionist. I always see way I could have made a project better. It is a curse and a blessing at the same time. However, the thing I am most proud of, currently is the Inneract Project. This is a free programme I started to expose inner-city youth and communities to careers in design. It is my life’s work. It inspires me because I have seen the work we do impact the lives of young people. As Inneract Project continues to grow, I get excited about the potential of our program developing a greater appreciation of design in the schools and inner-cities.

RobotsRobots exhibition that took place at the Experience Music Project Museum, Seattle. Designed while working at Pentagram

What would be your dream job or project?

My dream design job was to work at Pentagram Design. I worked there, so now I am working at Yahoo. There, I am working on my next current interest, interactive design. I consider myself very fortunate to able to work at this company.

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition.

Most of the people I think would deserve the credit, already have the credit. Those who I know who don’t get enough credit, don’t care. I am one of those people. I, like so many others, do it for the love. But, make no mistake, we want to get paid fairly to do it too.

FistImage created as part of “Envisioning Blackness in American Graphic Design” project.

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

The best advice I can give someone is to make goals for yourself, and never stop working til you get there. It sounds sort of like a cliché, but it’s not, really. It is actually pretty simple, and pretty much proven to net you some success. I wanted to be the best, and my competitiveness and work ethic would not let me give up. I practice my skills everyday. If I am putting together a Word doc to send to someone, I am thinking about the format. When I am at home, and moving things around in my house, I tend to think about composition, balance and symmetry. I admit, it is a compulsive behavior, but those little things have helped me fine-tune my skills and now I can work rather quickly and effectively when designing something for someone. It is the daily practice that enhances your skills — working everyday to get better.

What’s next for you?

The next step for me involves my fascination with technology, interactive design, education and community awareness. These areas of interest will more than likely influence the next big thing I do. We will have to see what happens next.

For more information visit www.inneractproject.org

Network:

EUROPE:

Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK is the UK’s largest ever exhibition of mainstream and underground comics, showcasing works that uncompromisingly address politics, gender, violence, sexuality and altered states. It explores the full anarchic range of the medium with works that challenge categorisation, preconceptions and the status quo, alongside original scripts, preparatory sketches and final artwork that demystify the creative process. Open until 19 August 2014 at The British Library, 96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB. For more information visit www.bl.uk

THE CARIBBEAN:

Anything with Nothing: Art from the Streets of Urban Jamaica. The National Gallery of Jamaica is pleased to present an exhibition of street art from Kingston and environs. The exhibition is on view at the National Gallery until 11 July. National Gallery of Jamaica, 12 Ocean Blvd, Block C, Kingston, Jamaica, (W.I)
For more information visitnationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com

THE US:

When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South queries the category of ‘outsider’ art in relation to contemporary art and black life. With the majority of work having been made between 1964 and 2014, the exhibition brings together a group of thirty-five intergenerational American artists who share an interest in the U.S. South as a location both real and imagined. Runs until 29 June 2014 at Studio Museum of Harlem, 144 West 125th Street, New York, New York (212) 864-4500. For more information visit www.studiomuseum.org

AFRICA:

Rotimi Fani-Kayode Retrospective: Autograph ABP presents the first major Rotimi Fani-Kayode museum retrospective in Africa. Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s photographs constitute a profound narrative of sexual and cultural difference, seminal in their deeply personal and political exploration of diaspora, desire and spirituality. In his large-scale colour and black and white portraits, the black male body becomes the focal point of a photographic enquiry: ancestral memories and a provocative, multi-layered symbolism fuse with archetypal motifs from European and African cultures and subcultures, inspired by what Yoruba priests call ‘the technique of ecstasy’. Runs until 18 June at Iziko South African  National Gallery,  Cape Town, South Africa. Visit autograph-abp.co.uk/exhibitions/solo-exhibition for more information.

POPCAP 2014 Call for Contemporary African Photography. Now into its third year, POPCAP ’14 welcomes contemporary photographic portfolio submissions for its annual competition. Five winners will be selected by a panel of 18 international judges. The winners will all be invited to exhibit their work internationally at five open-air POPCAP exhibitions in Basel and Berlin during the European month of photography and with the Cape Town Month of Photography, Lagos Photo Festival and Addis FotoFest. Deadline 1 July 2014. You can apply here.

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

Nine Fine Design Pioneers

This month, in recognition of the US celebration of Black History Month, Four Corners breaks from convention to profile not one person, but nine people. Taking a moment to reflect on some of the historical achievements of African-American creative pioneers. The short biographies presented can in no way do justice to these esteemed people, but instead are designed to stimulate your natural curiosity to look further into the contribution made by these extraordinary men and women. Although all of the people featured here are no longer with us, they each made an indelible mark on the cultural and creative landscape and blazed a trail for others to follow. #Respect.Stamp featuring Madam CJ WalkerStamp featuring Madam CJ Walker

Sarah Breedlove, aka Madam CJ Walker, cosmetics designer, marketer and entrepreneur (1867-1919)

Way, way before Oprah, there was Sarah Breedlove, or Madam CJ Walker as she is more commonly known. The first child in her family born free from slavery just after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, this incredible woman made her fortune designing, developing and marketing a highly successful range of beauty and haircare products for black women via the business she founded, Madam CJ Walker Manufacturing Company. Regarded as the first US female self-made millionaire, Walker proved herself to be a great philanthropist, using her wealth to support many black organisations such as the NAACP plus a number of schools, orphanages, individuals, and retirement homes. Her achievements have been celebrated by many prominent institutions, most notably, The National Women’s Hall of Fame and on a postage stamp as part of the USPS Black Heritage USA series. For more information visit www.madamcjwalker.com.O, Sing a New Song (1934), by Charles DawsonSource: University of Illinois  O, Sing a New Song (1934), by Charles Dawson

Charles Dawson, illustrator and designer (1889-1981)

As one of Chicago’s leading black artists and designers in the 1920s and ’30s, Charles Clarence Dawson made his name creating illustrated advertisments for beauty products and many of the major black businessmen and entrepreneurs of the day, including the pioneering black filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux. Born in Brunswick, Georgia to hard-working parents, and a student of Booker T. Washington’s famed Tuskegee Institute, he more than paid his dues working a variety of odd jobs to pay the tuition to become the first African American admitted to the Arts Students League in New York. He later went on to attend the Art Institute of Chicago, was a founding member of Chicago’s first Black Arts collective (the Arts & Letters Society) and an integral part of the New Negro Movement in the visual arts or more commonly referred to as the ‘Harlem Renaissance’. For more information visit www.aiga.org/design-journeys-charles-dawson.Into Bondage (1944) by Aaron Douglas, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, WashingtonSource: Sarah Stierch  Into Bondage (1944) by Aaron Douglas, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington

Aaron Douglas, illustrator and designer (1889-1975)

Another leading figure and architect of the Harlem Renaissance, Aaron Douglas’ bold geometric and angular illustrations alongside the philosopher, Alain Locke’s insightful prose, featured prominently in the landmark 1925 publication, The New Negro. His work enabled the formation of a new visual language that embraced a distinct African heritage. It was a style that found its way onto many a publication cover and would later become known as ‘Afro-Cubism’. His work also translated beautifully into designs for wall murals, the best example of which is calledAspects of Negro Life’ created in 1934 for the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library, or as it is now called, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. For more information visit www.aiga.org/design-journeys-aaron-douglas.The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (1961), Paul Williams was consulted on the designSource: brew books The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (1961), Paul Revere Williams was consulted on the design

Paul Revere Williams, architect (1894-1980)

At the height of his career, Paul Revere Williams was popularly described as the ‘architect to the Stars’. This is an incredible accolade and achievement, not least for someone who was orphaned at a very young age, but also as a African American growing up through times of some of the most overt racism imaginable. In spite of all this, and encouraged by a foster mother who nurtured his education and artistic talent, he let his work ethic and perfectionist nature speak for itself. Earning academic awards, winning competition prizes and the respect of  both colleagues and clients along the way, he founded his own architectural practice in 1922 and became the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects in 1923. For almost 40 years, his home designs were commissioned by the Hollywood elite of celebrities, movie stars and powerful and wealthy Californian individuals. For more information visit www.paulrwilliamsproject.org.Pan American Unity Mural (1939), created by Diego Rivera with Thelma Johnson-StreatSource: Joaquin Marinez Rosado Pan American Unity Mural (1939), created by Diego Rivera with Thelma Johnson-Streat

Thelma Johnson-Streat, painter, illustrator, muralist and textile designer(1911-1959)

Against all the odds, this exceptional African American ‘Renaissance-woman’, gained recognition from an early age through her Art. A passion, which she expressed through many different channels and subsequently gained recognition for all of them. Whether working with celebrated Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera; becoming the First African-American woman to have her work exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art, New York; as a teacher and activist promoting cultural diversity through art; or performing a dance recital for the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace in the 1950’s; it was all done with her customary grace, style and sophistication. For more information visiten.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thelma_Johnson_Streat.Emancipation Proclamation stamp (1963), by Georg OldenEmancipation Proclamation stamp (1963), by Georg Olden

Georg Olden, designer and art director (1929-1975)

A man very much after my own heart, Georg Olden produced outstanding commercial work for some of America’s biggest corporations. As CBS’s Head of on-air promotions, in the early days of television, he pioneered the field of broadcast graphics, supervising the identities of programs such as I Love Lucy, Lassie and Gunsmoke, under the wing of leading art director, William Golden. If that wasn’t enough, he turned his attention to advertising, winning shelfloads awards and mentions in Graphis and Art Directors Club annuals continuously. In fact, the Clio Awards statuette of which he won several, was designed by him in 1962. He was the first black American to achieve an executive position in major corporation and also went on to become the first African American to design a postage stamp; a broken chain commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Not bad going for the grandson of slave. For more information visit www.aiga.org/medalist-georgolden.Mr Magoo. The Mr Magoo animated series was directed by Frank BraxtonSource: Kevin Dooley Mr Magoo. The Mr Magoo animated series was directed by Frank Braxton

Frank Braxton, animator (1929-1969)

Let’s paint the scene. America. The 1950s. And Jim Crow laws of racial segregation are still in place. How the hell does a black animator get his foot in the door as an animator at Warner Bros Animation? Well, the story goes that animator Benny Washam walked into the office of his production manager Johnny Burton and said, ‘I hear Warner Bros. has a racist policy and refuses to hire blacks.’ A furious Burton wheeled around in his office chair and shouted, ‘Whoever said that is a liar! It’s not true.’ ‘Well then,’ said Washam, ‘There’s a young black animator outside who’s looking for a job. Guess he’s come to the right place.’ That man was, of course, Frank Braxton, who went on to become part of the team at the legendary Chuck Jones unit at Warners. Many of Jones’ amazing cartoons of the 1950’s would contain substantial contributions from Braxton. He also served as a director for The Bullwinkle Show, Mr. Magoo, Charlie Brown TV specials and early Cap’n Crunch  commercials. For more information visit jimhillmedia.com/columnists1/b/floyd_norman/archive.US Embassy in Tokyo (1976), designed by Norma Merrick SklarekSource: jarsyl US Embassy in Tokyo (1976), designed by
Norma Merrick Sklarek

Norma Merrick Sklarek, architect (1928-2012)

As a first generation African-American, born in Harlem to Trinidadian parents, Norma Merrick Sklarek would go on to accomplish many more ‘firsts’, building an unparalleled career as a pioneering women architect. She became the first African-American director of architecture at Gruen and Associates in Los Angeles in 1966. Sklarek became the first black woman to be elected Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1980. In 1985, she became the first African-American female architect to form her own architectural firm: Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond, which was the largest woman-owned and mostly woman-staffed architectural firm in the United States. For more information visiten.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norma_Merrick_Sklarek.Fairchild Channel F (1976), designed by Jerry LawsonSource: Mulad Fairchild Channel F (1976), designed by Jerry Lawson

Jerry Lawson, video games designer (1940-2011)

His name may not be as synonymous with the gaming industry as PlayStation and Nintendo, but Jerry Lawson’s innovative technological design and engineering work helped pave the way for them to follow. For Jerry made history when he created the first ever cartridge-based video game console, The Fairchild Channel F. Hailing from humble beginnings in a housing project in Jamaica, New York, his passion and talent for technology was to take him far, becoming Head of the Fairfield Channel F project where he and his team designed many of its prototyped components. Always looking to push the systems capabilities beyond just cartridge gaming, they put together a daring initiative called TV Pow, which was the first, and only video game played via broadcast television. For more information visitclassicgames.about.com/od/classicvideogames101/p/JerryLawson.

Network:

THE U.S:

Acasa 16th Triennial Symposium On African Art at the Brooklyn Museum will consider the full range of topics related to the arts of Africa and the African Diaspora currently being addressed by ACASA members, from considerations of the archaeological and archival contexts of historical African art to examinations of emerging artistic practices on and off the continent. Like the accomplished Lega elder who once used a three-headed sakimatwemtwe figure, ACASA members look to the future and the past, simultaneously. For more info visit www.acasaonline.org

THE CARIBBEAN:

Bermuda International Film Festival (BIFF) 2014. Since its inaugural Festival in 1997, BIFF has remained steadfast in its mission statement: to advance the love of independent film in a community welcoming to filmmakers and filmgoers and to encourage and inspire young Bermudians to capture their very special narrative through the lens of a camera. This year’s festival runs from 21-27 March.  For more information visit www.biff.bm.

EUROPE:

Still Fighting Ignorance & Intellectual Perfidy: Video Art From Africa presents a selection of African video art that stands beyond the clichés that remain associated with the dark continent and the postcolonial image. It seeks to bring viewers closer to idiosyncratic readings of African video art and its thematic concerns, which are largely ignored. Runs 13-30 March at BEN URI Gallery & Museum, London, United Kingdom. For info visitwww.benuri.org.uk.

“Haute Africa” – At Photofestival Knokke-Heist 2014. From March up to June 2014, Knokke-Heist will once again focus on contemporary photography. The highlight of the festival is the outdoor exhibition, entitled “Haute Africa”, in which international leading artists and photographers such as Martin Parr, Wangechi Mutu, Zanele Muholi, Viviane Sassen, Yinka Shonibare and many others offer an alternative perspective on the contemporary African continent.For more info visit fotofestival.knokke-heist.be/en

AFRICA:

‘Du Bois in Our Time’ Final presentations of works by Ghanaian and UK artists, Bernard Akoi-Jackson, Adwoa Amoah, Ato Annan, Yaganoma Baatuolkuu, Serge Clottey, Kelvin Haizel, Kwesi Ohene-Ayeh , Mawuli Toffah, and Mary Evans. Mullti-media and site specific works will be presented in the Du Bois Museum and Mausoleum after several months of reflecting on the legacy of civil rights leader and Pan-Africanist, W.E.B. Du Bois, in our present era.
Opening events will include a discussion, talk with artists and scholars, poetry and workshops over the 2 days. The entire programme of ‘Du Bois in our time’ Accra was sponsored by the Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne. For more info visit www.nubukefoundation.org

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

A Super Hero Identity Crisis

poster-supermanreveal

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about ‘superheroism’. Partly, because of my Afro Supa Hero exhibition currently on display at the V&A Museum of Childhood, that is centered around my personal collection of African diaspora pop cultural action figures and comics; but also because I see it as a theme that is gradually becoming more visible in society. A trend, I believe is primarily due to the phenomenal rise of gaming across all different platforms and devices. Virtual worlds offering momentary escapes from our real lives through new identities, avatars and alter egos. Sophisticated pursuits that are no longer purely the preserve of children, but also taken through to adulthood.

Although, I am not a big ‘gamer’ myself, I find this whole subject fascinating, especially when I relate it to the African-Caribbean experience in the UK and how many people of my generation; the 1960s first generation Britons, born of Caribbean parents; spent years searching for their own identity.

Even though a sense of displacement was something we shared with our ‘brothers and sisters’ in the Caribbean and the US, I believe our experience in Britain was quite unique. The patriotism, they showed for their respective countries, was a feeling that was often completely alien to me and many of my peers.

Here, we were a group of citizens who felt no more at home in the country of our birth, than we did in the homeland of our parents. In Barbados I was called a ‘Little Englander’ yet in Britain I was seen as a ‘bloody foreigner’. It was an identity crisis that took me years to come to terms with, and even to this day, I still tend to identify more with being a Londoner first and foremost, than being British.

It is experiences like these that have pushed me throughout the course of my life, starting in my early teens, to explore and embrace African Diaspora history and its legions of super heroes and heroines. It fuels my belief that uncovering the truth in ‘History’ is the great equalizer that can help address many of the negative perceptions that surround race, religion, sexuality and gender.

It also informed the approach that I took in creating my Afro Supa Star Twins™ that adorn my exhibition branding and merchandise.  From the outset, I wanted my characters to be accessible to everyone. I was deliberate in making them twins, one male and one female because of my belief in harmony and the equality of the sexes.

In terms of the Afro style, on one hand, and purely for selfish reasons, it embraces the main phase of my childhood; but on the other it was also a dynamic time of ‘Black self-pride’ and ‘Afro-consciousness’ as the formality of the 1960s civil rights and counter-culture movements, paved the way for the free form funkiness of the 1970s.

Although certain strides have been made in the depiction of black cultural heroes and heroines, one issue that still continues to linger is the assumption that a white super hero is for everyone, yet a black super hero is only for black people.  Actually, the ultimate global super hero right now should be from the Han Chinese community, if we are to take our cue from the latest global population statistics.

If we are to go by history, and embrace the scientific facts that suggest all life on the planet came out of Africa, then a super hero of African origin is an entirely fitting concept to be embraced by all.

I have no doubt, the continued portrayal of the white super hero savior of humanity is down to the historical legacy of racism and the continued white male dominated power structure within the worlds of media, television and film. Maybe once they are finally able to accept the ancient African roots of their identity, the world will be a better place for us all.

4 Corners: An Interview with Archie Boston

As summer officially draws to a close here on British soil, we head to the sunny climes of the US and specifically Los Angeles to interview a man I am proud to call a friend and whose contribution to the design and advertising landscape is immense. I first interviewed Archie Boston two years ago, (in fact it was my first-ever professionally published interview) and discovered a man with humour, humility, passion, creativity and deep sense of integrity. Values that shine through in his body of work, and in particular a series of uncompromising self-promotional adverts he created with his brother Brad. Two years on, his courage and conviction remain resolutely intact, as I’m sure this interview will testify. Over to you Brother Archie…Self-promotional poster for Boston and Boston

Self-promotional poster for Boston and Boston

Archie Boston

Boston served two terms as president of the Art Directors Club of Los Angeles, is one of 35 design pioneers named by Graphic Design USA magazine and was honoured as Outstanding Professor of the Year in 2004 at California State University Long Beach, where he has taught for over 33 years. He published his memoir, Fly in the Buttermilk in 2001, created historical documentaries on 20 Outstanding Los Angeles Designers, in 1986, and is the first African American recipient of the prestigious AIGA Fellows Award.Self-promotional poster for Archie Boston Graphic Design

Self-promotional poster for Archie Boston Graphic Design

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

I received my BFA degree in Advertising Design with Honors from Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, California.  My first job after graduating was as an art director at Hixson and Jorgensen Advertising.  My second job was as a partner in, Boston & Boston Design, where I worked for two years, then returned to work at Ketchum Advertising as an art director for eight years.  I received a Masters Degree in Liberal Arts from the University of Southern California in 1977. Then, I opened Archie Boston Graphic Design and became a Professor at California State University where I worked for 30 years until I retired from teaching in 2009.Self-promotional poster for Boston and Boston

Self-promotional poster for Boston and Boston

What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

My biggest challenge was racism.  However, rather than be on the defensive, My brother Brad and I went on the offensive and published promotional pieces that were provocative, memorable, daring and different. That approach shock the establishment, but opened the door to many unbiased clients who admired our courage and worked with us in spite of what others thought. However, another problem was that there were many mediocre designers and clients who were afraid of working with a minority firm that they thought we were too talented for the work they did.We've Come Too Far to Turn Around

We’ve Come Too Far to Turn Around

Who and/or What are your greatest inspirations and influences?

My greatest influences were art directors and designers like Georg Olden, Lou Danziger, George Lois, Saul Bass, Paul Rand, Brad Boston, Herbert Lubalin, Jack Roberts and Robert Miles Runyan. My greatest inspiration was and still is Jesus Christ, My Lord and Savior. I cannot think of any designer that was the same, yesterday, today, and forever.  Great design is timeless.Christmas card

Christmas card

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

I am most proud of my first book, Fly In The Buttermilk, memoirs of an African American in Advertising, Design & Design Education. This book should be a must-read for anyone in advertising, design or design education. This book will be around for future generations of designers who believe in the gospel of good design. I am also proud of the interviews I videotaped in 1986 of 20 Outstanding Los Angeles designers, while on sabbatical.  Some of the designers featured were Saul Bass, Louis Danziger, Marvin Rubin, Jim Cross, Jack Roberts, Ken Parkhurst, Robert Miles Runyan and many more.Cover for Boston's Fly in the Buttermilk book

Cover for Boston’s Fly in the Buttermilk book

What would be your dream job or project?

This might sound wacky, but my dream project would be to spread the gospel of design spirituality throughout the world. We, as designers, don’t talk about religion and how it influences our creativity. Many of us think that it has no place in our profession. I disagree. I consider myself an apostle of design. Apostle means advocate, follower, believer, supporter, devotee, or scholar. Surely, after all my years in advertising, design and design education, I qualify for this position. So why don’t you follow me in spreading the gospel of design?Christmas card

Christmas card

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition, and why.

I believe my brother, Brad Boston, deserves recognition because he was a better designer than I.  He was like John the Baptist.  He baptised me into design by making me do my assignments over as a student.  I followed his advice until it was time for me to step out in faith.  The rest is history. Marvin Rubin, my other instructor, at Chouinard Art Institute, who helped me to see the reality of the business, encouraged me to be daring and imaginative.  Marvin also rented Brad and I space in his office until we moved into our own. Nick Mendoza, my friend and former classmate, who founded the first Hispanic advertising agency in Los Angeles, Mendoza Dillion and Associates.  He went on to become a creative director at Young and Rubicam and from there to become an international director of television commercials. I cannot end this section without mentioning, Louis Danziger, my mentor, however, he has received his recognition many years ago and is still considered an ‘Art Center College of Design treasure’. Finally, I believe that God deserves credit and more recognition in this field.  You might think that he is not a person but I believe that He is in all of us.Work for Pentel

Work for Pentel

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

My advice is to be honest. Be happy. Be Yourself. Be courageous. Be imaginative. Be passionate about your work. Be the best that you can be.  Follow your intuition. Don’t settle for mediocrity.  Work hard. Read. Question the establishment. Don’t worry about being politically correct. Respect your teachers.  Enter your work in student design competitions, to find out what professional judges think.  Remember, throughout your career to always strive to do excellent socially responsible work.  And finally, don’t take yourself too seriously.Self-promotional poster for Boston and Boston

Self-promotional poster for Boston and Boston

What’s next for you?

Since I turned 70 years old last month, my perspective has changed about design.  I want to add spirituality to every aspect of my life, including my design.  I have created some controversial work that was not politically correct and in some cases blasphemous. However, I still stand by that work. Now, I see life differently.  I would like for future design generations to consider trusting in a higher power.  I believe that God has led me down my path and there were bumps in the road, but I never would have made it without Him.

Archie. The Apostle of Design

You can visit Archie’s website at www.archbosgd.com.

Network

THE U.S:

2013 Aiga Design Conference: Head, Heart & Hand will celebrate the best in design and explore three interrelated aspects of the profession: design strategy, social impact and craft. This event will provide a platform to the participants to discuss about some focal points such as design for social impact and design as craft. The conference will take place October 10-12 at Minneapolis Convention Center. For more information visitdesignconference.aiga.org

THE CARIBBEAN:

Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival: First held in August 2007, the popularity of theCaribbean Sea Jazz Festival has soared since its inception. This two-day event will this year be held on the 4th and 5th of October 2013 on the small island of Aruba. Initially inspired by a number of other such festivals like the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Netherlands and Saint Lucia Jazz, Caribbean Sea Jazz’s goal is to create a stage for local and regional music talent, showcasing them alongside big names in the Jazz world. Running on a small budget, this wonderful event is not just about music, but also exhibits the best of the Aruban community. For more information visitwww.caribbeanseajazz.com

EUROPE:

Afro Supa Hero is a snapshot of a childhood and journey to adulthood, shown through a personal collection of pop cultural heroes and heroines of the African diaspora. Jon Daniel’s action figures, comic books and games offer an insight into the experience of a boy of African Caribbean heritage growing up in 1960s and 1970s Britain, in search of his identity. Runs from 14 September – 9 February 2014. For more information visitwww.museumofchildhood.org.uk

AFRICA:

Ghana Fashion & Design Week: An impressive range of local and international designers and exhibitors will be participating in the upcoming second annual Ghana Fashion & Design Week. The event will bring together Ghanaian and International fashion, media and industry professionals and fans. Selected designers from around the globe will deliver an exciting selection of creative designer’s collection during the catwalk shows, with a diverse range of Exhibitors hosted at the contemporarily styled PopUp Exhibition Salon during the event. The event will welcome international press, media, and buyers. The catwalk show is scheduled to take place over two days from the 11-12th October 2013. For more informationemail:info@ghanafashiondesignweek.com

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.