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Class of 2020: Jahnavi Inniss

Poster in black, yellow, red and green with W. E. B.  Du Bois quote
Poster in black, yellow, red and green with W. E. B.  Du Bois quote
Representation Theory, Jahnavi Innis, BA Graphic Communication Design
Written by
Teleri Lloyd-Jones
Published date
11 August 2020

Graduating from BA Graphic Communication Design, Jahnavi Inniss talks to us about her final project, a quilt and online directory highlighting the contributions and legacies of Black people to British history.

Tell us about your final project and why you chose that subject.

"I looked at the current presentations, or lack thereof, of Black British history and saw the ways in which it is treated as insignificant and of minimal importance.

While exploring Black British history, I noticed frequent silent gaps in the timeline so wanted to create something that gave visibility to the existence and contributions of Black people in Britain between the 17th and 19th centuries. I wanted to dismantle the ‘single story’ suggesting that Black people only arrived in Britain after the Second World War in the late 1940s during the 'Windrush' period.

Black people have made significant contributions to British society which have gone unrecognised, often deliberately excluded from mainstream British history discourse. I believe it's vital that Black British history is made visible in order for Black Brits to be knowledgeable of their rich history and its legacies, as well as wider British society appreciating the substantial contributions that Black people have been making for centuries."

Quilt with names in black letters
Jahnavi Inniss, BA Graphic Communication Design
Black British History Quilt, 2020

Your project combines digital and handcrafting with a large quilt and related online directory. What is the relationship between those mediums?

"I always favoured analogue design methods and enjoy making with my hands. I responded to a lot of my design briefs through paper craft, printmaking and letterpress.

For this project, I chose the technique of appliqué and quilting as it has a rich cultural history of articulating historical presence. The medium of quilting links cultural practices in West Africa with the labour black women endured during slavery in the US. Also, quilting has been adapted by artists such as Faith Ringgold to construct imagery that counters negative perceptions of Black people.

The digital aspect comes into play with both the online directory and newspaper. I designed it as a newspaper to reflect on grassroots publishing as a means of creating counter narratives and disseminating information. The online directory exists to inform and tell the stories of the people featured. It also provides an opportunity for people to submit anyone else they feel deserves recognition."

How did coronavirus and the lockdown impact your practice?

"Like many other students, I would say I practically live at CSM, being in the studios and workshops five days a week. Changing to producing work at home was difficult at the beginning. I also work as a supermarket assistant at the weekends so being a key worker in a pandemic while trying to complete my College work was difficult. I had a lot of anxiety but found that pacing myself and staying occupied with my design work helped to ease this. Creating something that I knew had value in terms of design for social good helped motivate me."

What does it mean to you to be part of the “Class of 2020”?

"It signifies perseverance. People’s lives have completely changed these past few months and the fact that graduating students are completing their studies shows strong will power. It feels promising to be part of a generation that pushes through times of uncertainty."

Moving forward, what changes do you hope to see in your discipline?

"I hope the creative industries more accurately reflect the diversity of the world in which we’re living and give light to communities that have been underrepresented or silenced for centuries.

I also hope that students are taught that they have power, and an accompanying responsibility, to create work that can influence social attitudes towards those groups of underrepresented people."

Thinking about your fellow students, whose work should we take a look at next?

Ishwari Giga. She works with photography and moving image and is another designer creating work that gives a platform and visibility to an underrepresented community. Through her personal interrogation of the South Asian community in Southall she raises awareness of the issues these communities face, such as gentrification and its detrimental effects as well as the pandemic. Her work is both profound in its beauty and insightful in its presentation of culture, identity, community, displacement and history.

Jahnavi Inniss is nominated for this year's MullenLowe NOVA Awards. Explore the full list of nominees.