This is a (loose) manual on a method I like to refer to as surfacing.
A method that synthesizes narrative through the use of surfaces such as textiles, paper, web & video to reveal the spectacularly ordinary parts of Black life within a growing design practice.
A method I (currently) practice in three (evolving) steps:
Unlayering and piecing together stuff (rememory)
Acknowledgment of ancestry through stuff-making (kin)
Consciousness of oneself and the place / time / space in which the work is being disseminated (hypervisibility)
This is a manual that profiles a (current) design practice of a Black female maker in 2023 (me! lol).
A Black female maker that continues to amalgamate, respond-to and learn-from.
One who recognizes that they are still growing — that their views expressed in this text will shift, evolve or change with time.
Found Myself In My Grandmother's Closet — For Taylor Hightower III
Digitally printed and embroidered cotton twill. Photographed by Rey Londres RISD PH 22
3'Lx2W', 4'Lx2W', 5'Lx2W'
Found Myself in my Grandmother's Closet is the start of an ongoing series in collaboration with photographer, Rey Londres, which profiles the narratives of family members around one question:
𝚆𝚑𝚊𝚝’𝚜 𝚊 𝚖𝚎𝚖𝚘𝚛𝚢 𝚢𝚘𝚞 𝚑𝚊𝚟𝚎 𝚠𝚒𝚝𝚑 𝚘𝚗𝚎 𝚌𝚕𝚘𝚝𝚑𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚒𝚝𝚎𝚖 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚝 𝚒𝚜 𝚘𝚛 𝚘𝚗𝚌𝚎 𝚠𝚊𝚜 𝚒𝚗 𝚢𝚘𝚞𝚛 𝚌𝚕𝚘𝚜𝚎𝚝?”
This question is aimed to explore the complexities within Black experiences post the Great Migration, while uplifting stories of the spectacularly ordinary, everyday stuff.
Interviews with family were conducted, recorded, then interpreted to create a new version of the garment as described in each person’s account. Each story was then transcribed onto the surface of each garment, with the entirety of the stories being embroidered to the inside.
The first phase of this project took Rey and I to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — the home of my grandmother, Sandra Olivia Moon Hightower my grandfather, Taylor Hightower Jr. & my uncle, Taylor Hightower III.
And resulted in three wares: “A dress made for a first date”, “A sharp linen suit” & “a pretty cool tour jacket”
moving on up (?)
𝒎𝒐𝒗𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒐𝒏 𝒖𝒑 (?) is a project that aims to explore themes negotiation and perception through a series of interviews with Black Americans asking them these two questions:
𝑾𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒅𝒐𝒆𝒔 “𝒎𝒐𝒗𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒐𝒏 𝒖𝒑” 𝒓𝒆𝒂𝒍𝒍𝒚 𝒎𝒆𝒂𝒏 𝒘𝒊𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒏 𝒚𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝒍𝒊𝒗𝒆𝒅 𝒆𝒙𝒑𝒆𝒓𝒊𝒆𝒏𝒄𝒆?
𝑾𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒊𝒔 𝒚𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝒅𝒆𝒇𝒊𝒏𝒊𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏 𝒐𝒇 𝒂𝒔𝒔𝒊𝒎𝒊𝒍𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏?
Over the course of a week I had the privilege to chat with eight individuals one-on-one. These conversations were left open ended, the primary goal being to give them the space to interpret and discuss these concepts to a length of their choosing. With the intention to visualize this paradox of the external ways Blackness is required (by some) to be presented versus the internal notions of one’s human experience, select pull quotes were embroidered onto typical work attire — dress shirts, suit jackets and blazers— with use of monochromatic threads to metaphorically represent these internal conversations coming to the surface.
Thank you to:
dear [ ]
Can a Black designer create complexity with-out it becoming passively consumed and flattened by a public?
Is it even possible to control the way work is consumed?
Can the consumption of Blackness be mediated?
My grandmother, Sandra Moon Olivia Hightower, passed down a bag of letters that she had held onto, written by my great grandmother, Dorothy “Dot” Moon, to my Great Grandfather, Edward “Jimmy” Moon during his WWII deployment at Pearl Harbor. The bag also included other miscellaneous letters my grandmother had received from friends and family during the 1950s and 60s. These letters requires one to mind the gaps; to speculate the context in which these notes were written and the people, places and things that connected them.
dear [ ]
Board Book — 15'' W x 26'' L
This project was offered as a live performance within the RISD Museum. The viewer is guided through the narrative with overlapping characters, places and events amongst a three-channel backdrop of found videos from the public domain — with the impermanence of the performance itself setting a condition intended to foster obligation from an audience.
A Quilt For —
Plastic thank you bags and embroidery thread
70'' x 70''
The women on my father’s side have carried on a quilting tradition for generations, with this craft being passed down, practiced and preserved.
Currently my father —
has a quilt in his possession that was passed down from his aunts in which their mother —
made for his father —
in his infancy. Quilts serve a multifaceted role — they are created for both functional use but also provide an entry point to memory and familial preservation.
To continue this generational practice while also considering the curious tension between the quotidian and the precious, in the fall of 2021 I created a 70’’ x 70’’ “quilt” as a commemorative “thank you” to the matriarchs of both the Pulley and Wade families. A Quilt For — utilized plastic “thank you” bags, a material intended to question — can the ephemeral become precious? Each square of the piece features embroidered names of the women who have carried on this tradition placed alongside graphics that reference the iconic design of the bygone plastic bag.
Sterling silver, lucite and resin
A jewelry line inspired by my grandmother, Sandra Olivia Moon Hightower — or as we call her, GranSan. Much like the concept of combining “grandmother” and “Sandra”, Gran Sans is an ongoing project that aims to connect, pay homage to and extend upon a practice of jewelry making she has passed down to me.
Season six (S6) is inspired by a photograph passed along from my grandmother’s personal collection. Each photo tells a story of place — whether it’s her and her brother, Eddy, changing into their bathing suits under the boardwalk at Chicken Bone Beach, or the memory of the dress she wore for her sweet sixteen — each photograph creates access points to tactile pieces of memory.
I’ve been incredibly drawn to one image in-particular — one of my GranSan with her cousin, Ramona, in Wildwood, NJ the summer of 1956. Back in February of 2022 the two of us met over zoom and chatted about this image and others — with her rememorizing this day vividly through descriptions of Frailingers salt water taffy, her grandparents and the fact she was wearing her favorite checkered skirt.
black joy archive v.ii
digital printed publication
8'' x 10''
black archive v.ii features stories, poems and images by 27 contributors. The book and website were designed utilizing fonts by Black type designers, with a color palette that references to The Negro Motorist Greenbook. Two book iterations, a website redesign and other collateral were produced with the advisory support by Shiraz Gallab and funding through the award of the SPUR Grant from RISD’s Research Office. One book version was another collaboration with Secret Riso Club, in which all the interior pages were printed with kelly-green ink, the covers letterpressed by DWRI and spiral-bound locally in Rhode Island. This version serves a similar function as the books produced for volume one, in that they are a limited run of 50 only being pressed once. The second book is printed with a print-on-demand manufacturer, which allows for more copies to be made accessible on the ready.
a-story-in.parts is a digital and spatial narrative experience by way of a website and physical photo album. It began with a series of zoom conversations between my grandmother, Sandra Moon Hightower and myself, in which she told me the stories around images she had passed down to me from her adolescence. The conversations introduced a series of parts — trips to Chicken Bone Beach in Atlantic City, two boys named one penny and two & an unexpected first date. These parts began to mimic the photo albums and drawers in which these family photos previously resided — seemingly disjointed, not necessarily in any chronological order and filled with access-points to more memories, internal thoughts and experiences from her life.
Taking a visual cue from customary home “the junk drawer”, the website houses a series of videos in which one can experience my grandmother candidly recounting these stories among various archival images, historical artifacts, gifs and emojis (lol). The website was created as a portal for one to enter this world by means of “digging” through the junk drawer.
The photo album was designed as a companion and navigational tool for the site. With the use of Arduino, the book utilizes light sensitive resistors that trigger the browser to load to new urls with when the pages of the album are turned. The book was built with a ready-made album and features many of the images as seen within the videos and website. The result is an experience in which one can thumb through the pages of the album while simultaneously launching an audio and visual telling of the physical images at their fingertips.