Queering design engages the space of (visual) consumption, thinking outside of what is perceived to be possible and repositions relationships between self/subject/object and desire, causing breaks in the chain of hegemonic thought.
I work as an artist/educator in schools, out-of-school, and after-school settings. I am also on staff at a teaching and learning studio called the Neighborhood Print Shop, located in the Braddock Carnegie Library.1 This is one of the places I started to consider myself an educator.2 The Neighborhood Print Shop has a design justice3 mission that centers around affordable access to graphic design technology and screenprinting instruction and equipment, with additional youth-centered programming.
I create queer-centered design and printing workshops for queer-specific, as well as non-queer, groups. For these lessons, I begin by sharing images of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) ads, protest signs, stickers, and posters made by the AIDS activist artist collective Gran Fury. This formative slice of graphic history has influenced my practice as artist and activist, so sharing it with young people is particularly potent. We talk about language and other forms coded information, the power of making sexuality and sexual imagery public, and the necessity of communicating with larger publics. I talk about the act of a group of citizens choosing to tell their truth through graphic design mobilized as public protest, communicating that a vulnerable population was dying because of homophobia, governmental neglect, and lack of access to medicine due to corporate greed.
The workshop then shifts inward, centering the group and individuals I am working with. I facilitate a brainstorm about what they might want to communicate through a graphic. Typically, the end goal is a screenprint, a poster, or a T-shirt. Once the language is agreed upon, I facilitate a collaborative design session with a laptop and a video projector, introducing fonts, and talking about color, and all the elements that communicate in a graphic. I encourage intuitive choices. We alter the graphic, watching the changes happen, and critique it together in real time.
One group I’ve facilitated this process with is FIERCE, an LGBTQ youth of color organizing group in New York City. We reflected on the legendary Gran Fury/ACT UP “Silence = Death” graphic, which they decided to remix to “Action = Life,” communicating an experience of living as queer youth in New York in 2011, amongst the commercial development of the Chelsea Piers, ongoing police brutality, and criminalization of queers of color. What inspired me was the group’s desire to draw a connection to a previous movement, but to differentiate itself by defining their resistance as positivist.
This past school year I taught a similar design/print workshop at Woodland Hills High School Gender & Sexualities Alliance (GSA) with a co-teacher/mentee who is also an alum of the school.4 This school’s administration and security has a reputation for being physically violent toward students who are black and queer. My co-teacher and I have been dreaming of creating queer-positive programming to counteract the homophobia at school. The GSA decided to create a graphic reading “Love has no label” to print on shirts we tie-dyed together in rainbow colors. Our project with the GSA was also recognized by our County Human Relations Commission Diversity Award, adding a layer of institutional legitimacy, as well as a celebratory moment to be out and proud for the students.
1 The Neighborhood Print Shop was initiated by Transformazium, the collaborative practice of Dana Bishop-Root, Leslie Stem and Ruthie Stringer in 2009. Their vision: “The shop will meet the need for increased communication between local organizations and residents by facilitating the production of posters, bulletins, and other informational material. It will provide an affordable means for producing printed T-shirts. It will create opportunities for entrepreneurship. It will be an active place for the exploration of the creative process.”
2 In the early 2000s I gave bookbinding workshops as part of the MOBILIVRE BOOKMOBILE project’s tour programming, but this was in my early twenties and I thought of this practice as skill-sharing, rather than educating. I began working in the Neighborhood Print Shop around 2011, working one-on-one with patrons to create and print tee shirt graphics; as well as teaching graphic design and screenprinting workshops with high school students.
3 I connect queering design pedagogy to the Design Justice principles I was introduced to in 2015 at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit. There, I heard a group of designers expound on Design Justice as a process that rethinks who leads design processes, centering the voices of those who are directly impacted, and seeing the role of the designer as facilitator, rather than expert. Design Justice asks us to consider a holistic relationship to design.
Ginger Brooks Takahashi’s collaborative project-based, socially enraged practice is an extension of feminist spaces and queer inquiry, actively building community and nurturing alternative forms of information distribution. She is co-founder of queer and feminist journal LTTR; MOBILIVRE BOOKMOBILE project; the touring musical act MEN; and General Sisters, a neighborhood grocery store. Learn more.
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