Race and the Design of American Life: African Americans in Twentieth-Century Commercial Art

By The University of Chicago Library

Exhibition: Race and the Design of American Life: African Americans in Twentieth-Century Commercial Art

Dates: October 14, 2013 – January 4, 2014

Kenny Burrell cover illustration by Andy Warhol

Kenny Burrell. BLP-1543. New York: Blue Note, 1956. Chicago Jazz Archive. Special Collections Research Center. The University of Chicago Library. Cover design by Reid K. Miles; illustration by Andy Warhol.

Description: Images of African Americans have outfitted myriad mass-produced consumer goods in the twentieth century, from Aunt Jemima’s pancakes to the Air Jordan basketball shoe. How has graphic design shaped the relationship between the politics of race and mass consumption? How have African American entrepreneurs and artists used design to shape their own images of “the race”? Drawing from collections of food packaging, print advertisements, children’s books, album covers, and toys, this exhibit traces the vexed history of racial design, from stark racist caricature to the productions of black-owned advertising firms. It explores how graphic design capitalized on racist attitudes; it also illustrates how for many corporations, designers, and consumers, graphic design was used to envision and transform the place of African Americans in society. As a market force and aesthetic style, graphic design emerged as a material and often intimate activity that wove race into the fabric of everyday life.

Curator: Christopher Dingwall, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, University of Chicago

Price: Free and open to the public

Location: Special Collections Research Center Exhibition Gallery,
1100 East 57th Street, Chicago, IL

Hours: Monday–Friday, 9:00 a.m.–4:45 p.m.; Saturdays, 9:00 a.m.–12:45 p.m. when classes are in session

Associated Event

Conference: Invisible Designs: New Perspectives on Race and American Consumer Capitalism
Dates: October 24-25, 2013
Location: Regenstein Library, 1100 East 57th Street, Chicago, IL

Invisible Designs aims to gather faculty and graduate students from the humanities and social sciences whose work explores new directions in the study of race and American consumer capitalism. We are particularly interested in approaches to the material and visual “design” of race in consumer goods, from household goods to corporate brands to Hollywood films. Recently, such approaches have illuminated otherwise “invisible” cultural logics and historical processes that have woven racial difference into the fabric of American life. Ultimately, we believe that racial design comprises a common and rich field and has begun to have a significant impact on the way many scholars think about the American consumer economy.

For more information and to register, visit invisibledesigns2013.sites.uchicago.edu.