Designing Africa and the Diaspora
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Course summary

Design has been a key tool in shaping the lived experiences and trajectories of our communities, from the creation of colonial cities to the architecture of apartheid. Oppressive systems of power and control have relied on design to maintain and perpetuate their dominance. Yet, it has also been used to subvert and challenge these systems, to imagine, reclaim, and create more just realities futures. African and Afro-diasporic communities have a rich history of social design that centers community-driven solutions, liberation, and resistance. This is the foundation upon which the Designing Africa and Diaspora course is built. From the cooperative economics of the Igbo people in Nigeria to the Black Panther Party's community programs in the United States, we will examine historical and contemporary examples of social design and explore the potential for shaping thriving futures for generations to come.Guided by expert practitioners and scholars, we will engage with cutting-edge concepts and learn how to apply these frameworks to real-world challenges that consider both people and planet. Through collaborative projects and case studies, we will gain the tools and critical perspectives necessary to advance transformative change. Our course also acknowledges the unique challenges of our time of polycrisis, where social, economic, ecological, and political systems are inextricably intertwined and in urgent need of radical transformation. As we grapple with these complexities, it is more critical than ever to be intentional in how we make decisions, envision and materialise change. Through this course, we will cultivate the skills and knowledge to engage with these issues and create alternative pathways towards collective flourishing.

learning Outcomes

  • Trace the threads of history that have shaped our present realities, and uncover the powerful role of design in shaping African and Afro-diasporic contexts.
  • Learn how to tap into the rich tapestry of our collective experiences and imaginations to compose complex stories of progress that go beyond individual accomplishments to consider collective wellbeing.
  • Learn how to identify and excavate the treasures lie buried in the cultural landscapes of our communities to inspire our designs and fuel our creativity.
  • Connect with the vast legacies of African and Afro-diasporic social design, Afro-Indigenous knowledge and cultural production.
  • Sense and respond to crisis with an intersectional, decolonial lens.
  • Learn the art of liberatory design and participatory accountability

Course modules

Postcards from a Progressive Present
In this interactive session we will travel in time to any given moment in the future we desire for our selves, our land and our people. We will achieve this by first grounding ourselves in our bodies and in space and then reflecting on a number of questions that progress us into the energy of our desired future. Questions like who is the freest version of myself, what is my vision of communal love, what does it feel like to exist in a space that is thriving in abundance. We will paint a picture of the highest versions of our selves living in the highest versions of our communities and invite our selves in to inhabit this space. From here we will write and send postcards with messages of hope, joy, encouragement and support to our selves and our loved ones living in the reality of here and now. In this way we become emissaries of hope, astronauts voyaging into the dream space and returning with the tools needed for us to bring it to fruition.
Life-affirming Infrastructures
From the belly of compounding crises, this conversation invites us to reimagine the precedents of what we grow - from institutions that sustain our current condition, to infrastructures rooted in our collective more-than-human accountabilities. We will position our collective imaginings as propositional - not just a critique of what should be dismantled, but as an opening to sit with what we build, the tools we use and how we organise. Drawing from Amahra's work, together, we will reflect on the type of systems demonstrators that affirm life and illustrate possibilities otherwise, beginning with Grandad's house
Beyond Whiteness: Designing to Remember Ourselves
In this session, Jacquelyn will unveil the entanglement of design with the stronghold of whiteness, beckoning us to break free from its grasp and embark on a transformative quest of self-remembering. Through thoughtful inquiry into how design shapes our sense of self and society, we will re-imagine what is possible when we reclaim our right to be seen, heard and centred. Jacquelyn will invite us to reclaim design from the places where our histories, cultures and agency have been obscured. To craft liberating spaces and a world that embraces the vibrant hues of our authentic identities and fuels our wellbeing.
Imagining Otherwise: Countering Carceral Fictions with Abolitionist Realities
In a world deeply entrenched in systems of power and oppression, the relationship between design and power becomes a critical lens through which we can challenge and transform the status quo. This session invites participants to explore the intersections of design, power, and radical re-imagination in the context of a convergence of challenges such as mass incarceration, mass surveillance, municipal disinvestment, and poverty. Drawing from her groundbreaking body of work, "Making Room for Abolition," Lauren will demonstrate the power of design fiction in envisioning artifacts from worlds without police and prisons. By collectively shaping these imagined futures, we will advance our understanding of abolitionist realities and their transformative potential.
Approximating Realities: Shifting Power and Territories Through Fiction
How can we use storytelling and worldbuilding to seek belonging for The Othered in fractured geographies and an increasingly elusive future? Through a process of mythmaking and digital worldbuilding, we can begin to conceive emancipatory futures and situated technocultures for Africa and her diaspora. Working outside the learned methods of formal architectural practice, Miriam’s process appropriates digital technologies and subverts myths and hegemonies in order to approximate realities that destabilize our dysfunctional present and allow us to consider multiplicities in worldviews and cosmologies.
Beyond What is Known: Embracing Uncertainty and Redefining Value in an Ever-changing World
In this thought-provoking session, Nu Goteh, invites us to challenge the conventional notions of certainty and stability in traditional roles, careers, and identities. We often encounter societal expectations that prioritize stability as a threshold for security and change. However, Nu urges us to critically examine the limitations imposed by desires which have their roots in histories of colonialism, apartheid, and experiences systems of domination and insecurity. We will collectively question the assigned value and constraints associated with these paths and perceptions, recognizing how they may hinder our potential as world-builders, creators, disruptors, and shapeshifters. Through critical analysis of the tensions between tradition, stability and uncertainty, this session invites us to reflect on prevailing paradigms and uncover the transformative power of embracing uncertainty, our unique roles in the social change ecosystem, and diverse trajectories.

Meet our instructors

Amara Spence
Course curator
As Founding Director of MAIA and Organiser of The Black Land & Spatial Justice Project, Amahra's practice is one of poetic pragmatism, exploring transformation and iterating change oriented towards liberation through spatial reclamation and social justice, design, performance and storytelling.
Dr Lesley-Ann Noel
Course curator
Educator, Designer, traveller and author of "Design Social Change
Jacquelyn Ogorchukwu Iyamah
Course curator
Jacquelyn Ogorchukwu Iyamah (she/her) is a racial wellness visionary and healing-informed designer.
Nu Goteh 
Course curator
Liberian-born refugee, designer, strategist, creative director, social practitioner, and the founder of Deem Journal.
Uzoma Orji
Course curator
Indigenous futurist, visual and experiential artist and creative technologist. His work is concerned with unpacking post-colonial crises of identity, fuelling imagination in service of progressive African futures
Mirriam Hillawi Abraham
Course curator
Multi-disciplinary designer from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. With a background in Architecture, she works with digital media and spatial design to interrogate themes of equitable futurism and intersectionality.

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