Blake Carlson-Joshua is a London based product designer originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has a background in Economics and Environmental Sciences and worked as a product designer in the acoustic furniture industry prior to coming to The Royal College of Art. He is interested in telling stories, investigating ways in which design can craft a narrative to highlight underrepresented issues.
The work I am exhibiting ‘Roots, Mixed & Black’ represent a DNA testing retrospective from the viewpoint of a biracial African American. From the initial puzzled uncovering of an unknown family tree, to the reflection and realisation of what it means to be black in present day America. With increased access to modern technology such as DNA testing, and in the wake of continued racial disparities, the aim of this work is to open a discussion into the modern day effects of the atlantic slave trade, and how it continues to shape identity and culture to this day.
Although it was a tough year for studio access, I felt the need to work with my hands as much as possible. I have focused primarily on furniture as I see it as an expressive medium from which stories can be told. This year was all about resourcefulness, and the use of salvaged materials is something that will continue to influence my own design practice as I move forward.
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When I took my DNA test last August, I was surprised to learn I was mostly West African on my paternal side. At first I felt a bit confused and thought it would have said Jamaica, where my grandparents had emigrated from, but the results were in and they read West Africa. My perspective changed on the situation, and turned me to the effects of the Atlantic slave trade and how so many people were displaced, completely losing their culture, language and identity. Effects that would ripple and influence generations to come. ‘Roots, Mixed and Black’ are physical manifestations that represent this journey of discovery.
- The first collection ‘Roots’ is a visual manifestation of the initial research and conversations I had with professionals regarding the pre and post-colonial african diaspora.
- The second collection ‘Mixed’ is a series of chairs that represent a reflection on mixed race America.
- The third item ‘Black’ is a stool that embodies the realisation of what it means to be coloured in America.
Pulp is a representation of the unknown, it’s a character, an emotion, the amalgamation of history and stories that can only be partially learned through self directed research. To create pulp from newspaper, you literally have to ring out the words. The pulp plaster was made using a special blend of old newspapers and jesmonite binding agent. In each piece, pulp is used in a specific way that portrays specific emotions and reflects a journey of DNA discovery. Many West African crafts are very hands on, creating an intimate relationship between the maker and the materials. Pulp was used to recreate this type of intimacy using materials that were at my disposal.
Why salvaged materials?
Many west african crafts are steeped in methedology, so I wanted to mirror some of the forms and techniques in a new way that was unique to my own surrounding. Found materials have played a big part in many West African art. Many beautiful art pieces have been made using materials that others would consider trash. Reusing salvaged materials lends a hand to the vital pursuit of a more circular economy.
Medium:Paper Pulp from old newspapers & Salvaged Materials
After doing a DNA test last August, I was surprised to learn I was one half 'Western African'. I had grown up knowing I had ancestors in Jamaica, but never gave much deeper thought to how they had originally arrived to the caribbean island. I wanted to learn about how people lived before the slave ships came, how did people dress? what languages and symbols did they use? what type of artefacts were used?
Medium:Paper pulp plaster from recycled newspaper, cardboard
Wattle and Daub is an ancient technique for building shelter that is widely used in Africa and around the world. Many traditional huts were built using this technique. For the Wires and Pulp lamp I mimicked this form using salvaged electrical wire and wood acting like the wattle and the pulp like the daub.
Medium:Paper pulp plaster, salvaged electrical wire and mdf
Medium:Trashed Newspapers, Newspaper Pulp Plaster, Salvaged Wood, Fabric Offcuts
Size:82 x 104 x 57
With the final piece, I wanted to embody the way I feel now after reflecting on my research and interviews. I decided to paint the paper pulp black to signify the way in which I and others like me will be continued to be viewed. In the wake of the murders of unarmed black people such as George Floyd and Philando Castille happening right in my hometown of Minneapolis, I have to always remember that to some I will only ever be a color. The form is of a djembe drum, a way to symbolise the continued rhythmic outcry for a stop to racial injustice.