by Ms No One
I want to start this post emphasizing my position inside the design world in Aotearoa (and I guess in the Western Neoliberal World) at the “bottom of the food chain”, because I am an experienced designer, a PhD Candidate, a casual (hourly-rate) design lecturer, an “ethnic” woman of color, and a migrant. However, I want to raise my voice and join the efforts done to bring diversity and equality to design, to break the silence and try to free us from the consequences of modern-colonial mindsets.
I have been following this blog since its inception and well executed visual evidence from Catherine Griffiths that pointed out the lack of diversity in design in Aotearoa, especially around the Designers Institute of New Zealand and Best Awards.
Unfortunately, this lack of diversity in New Zealand design field is not exclusive to this context, it’s a reflection of design worldwide as a hegemonic discourse, evidence of power inequalities, colonisation, appropriation, and elitist approaches (http://www.decolonisingdesign.com/statements/2016/editorial/, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sESVWI5aAHA, http://designco.org.nz/helix/presentations/dr-johnson-witehira/)
Since I arrived in Aotearoa, the country I proudly now call home, and started to try and figure out how the design world works here, I found the DINZ and its Best Awards. My first impression was of design as usual, a predominantly “white boys club”, a space with no place for “others”. I lost interest and focused on my own path, away from this world. Luckily, while in my own journey of research and teaching, I was invited to collaborate in different projects with some colleagues. The result of one of these collaborations was submitted to Best Awards, something we all agreed as a route to share the results from the project, having in mind that being part of an academic institution gives projects more credibility as opposed to submitting as “no ones”. We were selected as a finalist and attended THE night of Design Industry, as I heard some designers referred to the Best Awards ceremony.
How was my experience that night? My suspicions were confirmed: opulence, an elitist vibe and a lack of diversity in the audience and on the stage, with a few exceptions. What else did I see? People who look like me were mostly serving rather than in the audience. I was definitely not comfortable in this space. It really made me think about NZ society in general. Was that night a reflection of it? But we live in Auckland, one of the most diverse and progressive cities in the world! How could this be possible? Will my non-white design students feel the same way I was feeling? This is by no means an attack on white people or designers, but an honest concern. I don’t want future generations of designers to feel ashamed of their own cultures, to not see themselves or people like them on stage. How could we transformed design as a welcoming inclusive space for everyone to contribute?
Fortunately, I also started to discover other sides of this beautiful country, like its biculturalism. That was something I was not familiar with or had seen before. What was that “other” culture? Tangata Whenua, Māori people and their culture. I started wondering how this culture influenced design. In that search I found Ngā Aho and their valuable work. I learnt about Te Aranga principles. I read the scholarly work of Linda Tuhiwai Smith to put Māori and Indigenous voices as equally important to those from the West and was amazed by the depth of the mahi from Māori creatives like Johnson Witehira. These approaches have not only influenced my design teaching and practice but have transformed the way I see the world, they have given me hope and inspired to raise my voice, even as a “no one”. In the end, for some, it will not count anyways … but it may help others like me.
Ms No One