Creating while Black: an ingenious rebel against inequality, oppression, and classism.
by AKO • Jun 26, 2020 | DESIGN

Barely a month ago, demonstrations across the world were triggered in the repetitious protest of  the murder of yet another black man, and fallen hero George Floyd. These events were not only anti-racist and anti-authoritarian but stemmed from the deep rooted resulting issues founded in racial injustices across America. The demos were a call to action, a plea to change, and alter the systemic inequality and oppression that imbues all facets of the society, and a recreation of justice cries we’ve seen from the old-world.

Black creatives matter, but are the people of color getting any closer to proper representation in the creativity domain?

Ideation has, for the longest time, been taken as a standard measure in the creative industry and generally, in society. What does that mean for black people, who, from day immemorial face marginalization, misrepresentation and are stereotyped in the creative canon?

Nonetheless, the tides seem to be changing for the better despite the less-than-stellar records in adversity and inclusion, and over the past years, a number of black persons have risen to relatively regarded “prominence” in the creative world. Virgil Abloh as the first man to undertake a directory role at Louis Vuitton. The first black editor-in-chief of British Vogue, a black man named Edward Enniful. Elaine Welteroth, the first black editor- in-cheif of Teen vogue, and so many other recent “first black(s)”. This dichotomous blessing and saddening emphasis of these many “firsts” continues to play out in the creative industry that has been deeply rooted in benefits and direct and indirect influences of black culture and black-subcultural trends. A renaissance or an Armageddon?

Here, a little snippet of innumerable contributions the Black community has made in music, fashion, and art is importantly highlighted.

Influencing Music

The black cultural influence dates way back to slavery when black slaves molded their musical styles. It’s from these styles that we have the gospel, blues, country music, and bluegrass music. It’s a culture well renowned for its creation of R&B music and rap.  The rhythm created by the use of instruments such as banjo and drums can be felt in today’s musical genres.

Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Buddy Holly brought about rock and roll in the 1950s by allowing a stage for non-Hispanic White Musicians like Elvis Presley. The 1960s dawned with Motown and Detroit sound, which brought about classical music acts like Stevie Wonder, who is a golden standard for music in all diversities.

It’s no surprise one of the notable inputs the black community has had in music is Hip hop and rap music, which is a reflection of the day to day lives of black people in the US from hardships to triumphs. It has been of significant influence as other cultures have adopted the black culture through the various genres, as mentioned.

Influencing Fashion

The Afro-American culture doesn’t stop in music. As earlier discussed in this article, blacks have made notable and unique contributions to the Fashion Arena. Beginning with the southern church style, where, for Sunday services, slaves would put on their “Sunday’s best.” It’s through this that they would transform from their struggles and hardships to the relief in worshipping.  From there, with embellishments and grandeur, we have seen African American seamstresses like Ann Lowe, making fashion for Jackie O and White people in general.

From time immemorial, black culture inspired fashion such as black leather, and baggy garb has undergone an undertone.  Currently, black culture inspired style continues to make bold statements within movements such as Black Lives Matter.  Businesses owned by black people not only appeal to blacks but also other cultures all over the world. Beats by Dre and Air Jordan are a few of those that have made waves across the mainstream trendy’s.

Influencing Art

African American art was in many forms and with varying definitions between the 16th and early 18th centuries. In the Antebellum South, enslaved black communities had wrought-iron figures, small drums, ceramic “face” instruments, and domestic architecture. Blacks crafted art that, despite having black subjects portrayed in a seldom manner,  was done in a Western European fashion.Some sculptors and landscape artists would use years between the American Civil war and the Post-Reconstruction period, black American social conditions. The African American culture was of unique value and was justified by the difficulties the artists would go through covering the Afro-American culture.

Between 1865and 1900, an intersection of the political and apolitical situation was used in the works and lives of the artists. They would capture moody scenes of white-on-black violence that reflected the lives of black people at the end of the century. John Henry Adams, Jr. made a lot of African American portraits, as recorded in the journal The Voice of Negro Artist. Topics like emancipation would be vital for artists even in years to come. It’s after World War 1 that movements such as the Harlem Renaissance, with a collective focus on African Americans, their art, and broader modernistic visions were created.

Years later, Black writers, performing artists, and visual artists made their culture together with the worldwide struggles people were facing, their raison d’etre. Many visual artworks incorporated slogans like Black is beautiful and Black Power to add influential art manifestos that helped in organizing expositions of Black artists. Artists like Alma Thomas made the advancements and was the first black woman to enjoy a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum Of American Art in 1972, New York.

Funny cartoon-like paintings by sculptors, photographers, visual artists, painters, and conceptualists have helped place racism at the central position of art matters, creating a different visual standard in contemporary art.  It’s through the works of geeks Artis Lane, Jean- Michel Basquiat, and Kara Walker that we continue to speak for the history, culture, and heritage of black people.

Still, we take a moment to honor black icons who have made waves in their respective industries. Thanks in large part to the black groundbreakers.

Zelda Wynn Valdes

Wynn was born in 1905 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. She’s always thought-out as the first African American fashion designer. She saw the onset of her career at her uncle’s tailoring store in White Plains, New York.  Besides working with notable actresses like Joyce Bryant and Mae West, Zelda was endorsed to design the Playboy Bunny Costume mid-1950s. In 1948, Zelda became the first woman to have to her name, a shop in Broadway, New York City, and named it Chez Zelda. She was also named the New York chapter president of the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers. She died in 2001, aged 96.

Arthur McGee

Arthur, born in 1933 in Detroit, Michigan, made significant and impressive breakthroughs in the fashion realm. He won a local contest in 1951 to attend the Traphagen School of Design in New York. He finished his degree under Charles James at the Fashion Institute of Technology. In 1957, he rose in the ranks to be the first African American designer to run the Seventh Avenue designer room for the Bobbie Brooks label. In 1964, it became one of the ultimate clothing manufacturers in the United States, selling to stores that never had a history of stocking designs from an African American designer, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, and Bloomingdale’s.  It is years later that he opened his store dressing such notables as Stevie Wonder, Cicely Tyson, and Lena Horne.  Dead at 86, in 2018, McGee left a lasting legacy of grooming buoyant Afro-American talent.

Kesha Franklin, CEO and Lead Designer of Halden Interiors

Kesha oversees operations at Halden Interiors, which is a design establishment focusing on residential and hospitality spaces. She has a background in fashion, and it proves in her airy, luxe spaces furnished with awe of color and phenomenal fabric choices. While diversity in the world of design is seen as second-rate, Franklin doesn’t hesitate to unmask the difference between practice and practitioners. She refers to diversity as the state of having a variety in that you are composed of differing elements. According to Kesha, diversity is the essence of interior design, where you create a mix from furnishing, periods, fabrics to culture. She admits to a lack of representation of the many faces that create the beauty of diversity.

Jeanine Hays and Bryan Mason, Interior Designer and Author at AphroChic

AphroChic is an all-round design firm touching on publishing, interior design, fashion, and product design. It’s zealous to acknowledging diversity in various angles from culture to arts and science to technology in the Afro-American communities. It incorporates a connection between ultramodern design and the global culture in all populations.

AphroChic broke the ice as the brainchild of hubby and wife, Jeanine Hays and Bryan Mason, and quickly stretched out from an ordinary online blog to an establishment engaging in a variety of work from the nuts and bolts of designing to film.

Together, through a thoughtful cultural inspiration of the African diaspora, they have so far come up with not less than five collections of home décor. According to the couple, they’ve seen and continue to see the urge to respond to the missing representation in diversity, not only by creating comfortable homes but boldly stating a culture and expressing a world view through their clientele.

Stephen Burks, Founder of Stephen Burks Man-Made

Stephen Burks is a designer who’s included all from retail interiors and events to Furniture. His work is as a result of a close look at the intersection between African handmade crafts and contemporary aesthetics. Stephen Burks Man Made studio has collaborated with top furniture manufacturers to create lifestyle collections involving hand production as one strategy of innovation. In 2015, Stephen’s magical hand in product design won him the National Design Award and a Harvard Loeb Fellowship in 2018. His work has been at various exhibitions, including the Studio Museum of Harlem and the Museum of Art & Design (MAD). He has partnered with Nonprofit Initiatives such as Aid To Artisans, Artesanias de Colombia, and the Clinton Global Initiative. His aim through his projects is to create a nexus between authentic, meaningful production, industrial manufacturing, and contemporary global designing. His overall vision of design is the inclusivity of all cultural perspectives and create a space where Afro-Americans’ voices can be heard both aesthetically and philosophically.

Ultimately, going past racism and all sorts of sidelining doesn’t narrow down to having more blacks in the industry but it involves the air for allowing, supporting and hiring black creatives. With the unmasked ugly reality of discrimination in the creative industry, it’s evident that black people are ideal agents of change and influence in the creative world: rising beyond the horizons of discrimination and oppression, and creating their own lanes. #blackcreativesmatter

Image Sources:@leigh_newyork @megangabrielle @Johnnynelsonjewelry @Kohshinfinley @rinnyriot @Jadepurplebrown @byalissaashley  @jessmyart@yesterdaynite @megangabrielle @Hanifaofficial @brianadanyele @justdon @gallerydepartment

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