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Depictions of Blackness in American Graphic Design

Kelly Walters is currently working on a book project called “Depictions of Blackness,” which explores the emergence of racial stereotypes in print design works from 1865–1979 in African American history. From post-reconstruction to blaxploitation eras, “Depictions of Blackness” argues that depictions of African-Americans and African-American history are central to a critical understanding of American graphic design history. By looking at a wide range of diverse print media that proliferated early American popular culture—sheet music, lobby cards, and promotional advertisements–we are able to understand the continued legacy of racialized iconography that played a role in anti-black violence. Through archival research and the act of experimental printmaking, Walters’ research aims to highlight the linguistic phrases used in promotional black film posters from the Jim Crow era to the Blaxploitation era. By extracting typographic elements such as “an all-colored cast” or “with a cast of colored stars,” Walters is able to closely examine examples of segregation while also re-contextualizing them for new, alternative platforms. In looking closely at typographic details, language, and gestures, identifiable patterns emerge, pointing to shifts in communication styles and cultural representation in this area of poster design.


Kelly Walters