Author: Noor Shawaf

Locating Your Practice in ‘African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce and the Politics of Race,’ with D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem

A century’s legacy of Black designers working at the nexus of the quotidian, politics, history, and market capitalism is brought into focus through African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce and the Politics of Race, on view at the Chicago Cultural Center until March 3, 2019. The show’s objects and design content show generations of Black designers fusing a shared past and visions of the future within their historical contexts. This chronicle highlights designers and artists producing in many mediums including Charles Dawson, Charles White, Jay Jackson, Zelda “Jackie” Ormes, Charles Harrison, LeRoy Winbush, William McBride, Sylvia (Laini) Abernathy, and Emmett McBain. Particular emphasis is given to how 20th century Black designers and artists in Chicago reframed the conception of the Black consumer within the market economy. By the same token, the concerns, aesthetics, pressures, and values of Chicago’s dynamic Black communities are embedded in each object. Dr. Margaret T. Burroughs expressed this responsiveness when discussing the origins of the South Side Community Arts Center, quoted in the exhibition materials: “As young black artists, we looked …

Locating Your Practice in ‘A Johnson Publishing Story,’ with Samantha Hill and Krista Franklin

“We had so many good times. I grew up with Johnson,” a fellow visitor to A Johnson Publishing Story told me of the more than fifteen years she had spent working with the Johnson Publishing Company. As we took in the many books and objects on display from the Johnson Publishing Archive, she shared how she had started as a young secretary on Johnson’s executive floor, then worked as an executive secretary for the company’s children’s publication Ebony Jr., before going on to serve as a Midwest director for community relations, visiting Black churches and other institutions in Oklahoma, Missouri, and beyond to promote Johnson Publishing subscriptions and charity initiatives. And when we stopped in front of a zippy red alligator embossed vinyl-sheathed typewriter, I was surprised by how evocative such an object could be when she remarked, “Oh, I remember these! IBM at the time made these Selectrics in black, steel gray, and putty, but Johnson had them made custom in red alligator. I hammered away at one just like this.” John H. Johnson started …