Harris’ work grew out of frustration he encountered originally as a student, when he set out to profile the history of African American graphic designers, and found an utter dearth of academic resources profiling the work of African American in that field. His research would lead him to Cornell, then Chicago and eventually to his current position as a teaching fellow at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Harris has, throughout, continued to chronicle the history of African Americans in graphic design – a body of work that was recently developed as an exhibition “As, Not For: Dethroning Our Absolutes.” The exhibition was designed in four sections: Parties & Protests, Advertising & Commerce, Black Data, and Musicality.
Harris avers that the intent was to share a spectrum of African American culture and identities; the exhibit therefore contains work from both contemporary film & music, as well as infographics conceived by W.E.B. Dubois.
The structure of the exhibit calls attention to the fact that the work of African Americans has been consistently excluded from traditional narratives about the history of graphic design. Moreover, it challenges the very concept of graphic design as an elite, salon-based art form. The designers highlighted by Harris in some cases ran elite design advertising agencies, while in other cases were self-taught flyer designers. In every case, the designers were exploring, creating and recombining different schools of graphic design theory, and using them to represent dimensions of the African American experience.
We were fortunate to catch up with Jerome on Social Design Insights between exhibitions and he walked us through the genesis of the project as well as his ongoing research. Have a listen.