Case Study: Black Future Heritage Spaces

October 29, 2019

Ladipo Famodu, a SpeculativeEdu workshops participant, describes the outcomes of a workshop he led recently based on his experiences in Maribor and Rome.

How can worldbuilding and Speculative Design illuminate pathways for solving issues that disproportionately affect Black people today? Earlier this month I had the opportunity to address this question by participating in the 2019 Black in Design conference at Harvard University Graduate School of Design. In its third iteration, the theme was “Black Futurism: Creating a More Equitable Future”. BlackSpace, an organization I am part of, was invited to facilitate a two-day workshop.

In preparation for this, we had several internal phone calls and it was clear that heritage preservation needed to be a central theme. BlackSpace provides the following definition: “Heritage conservation references intentional actions that protect and elevate culturally significant markers, both non-physical and physical, in an effort to understand a place and the past, present, and future of its people.”

In creating this workshop, I was eager to apply my learnings from SpeculativeEdu. How could we evoke the same sort of radical creativity I’ve experienced in these week-long workshops in just a few hours? We came up with the following “Fill-in-the-Future” worldbuilding activity: Groups chose two random cards to help complete the statements below. The yellow card represents an issue that disproportionately affects Black people today. The green card represents an element of Black culture or heritage.

Fill-in-the-Future Exercise

On the second day, participants built objects that would exist in these worlds. With the caveat being: it should be an object that doesn’t exist in the present, or if it does – it should have a certain uniqueness or functionality tailored to their imagined world. Cardboard, magazines, textiles, and other basic materials were provided. Before starting, I gave a brief intro to Speculative Design.

Building our objects

We were overwhelmed with the success of the workshop. Participants articulated the ripple effects that would emanate from the radical preservation of Black culture and heritage. In creating objects from these worlds, we ended up with a collection of desirable futures manifested – to serve as conversational tools that can illuminate the pathways to a solution. 

Vanessa Morrison of BlackSpace Oklahoma wrote:

“My group’s scenario was addressing climate change through Hometown Heroes, so we invented a technology called the Kuumba Print. Kuumba is one of the 7 principles of Kwanza that symbolizes creativity and always doing as much as we can in order to leave our communities more beautiful and more beneficial than we inherited them. The Kuumba Print in this future world would be a technology that projects an air curtain (think hologram) on all services and goods as you’re shopping that details metrics on the impact (good and bad) on a neighborhood, state, and global scale that producing this good or service had on the environment. People would have Kuumba Print accounts that would incentivize them through tax breaks and more for shopping enviro-friendly. The Kuumba Print would also detail data on the manufacturers that produce these services and goods to hold them accountable for the impact their production has on climate change, and help people shop more responsibly and transparently. There would be a committee made up of neighbors (aka Hometown Heroes), environmental advocates, policy makers, and more to oversee this community effort.”

Sharing our ideas

Of course, this type of activity isn’t the only way to visualize and manifest (radically) desirable futures. But for the sake of this conference it proved to be a helpful activity, with many participants requesting access to the materials afterwards. We intend to make it an accessible resource available soon on the BlackSpace website. 

This exercise could be modified or precede a discussion to suit the following objectives:

I’m excited for future iterations and applications of this project, BlackSpace and beyond. Special thanks to SpeculativeEdu for catalyzing my interest in Critical and Speculative Design. 

Black Future Heritage Spaces workshop in collaboration with BlackSpace New York, BlackSpace Chicago and BlackSpace Oklahoma. Hosted by Black in Design & Harvard GSD. 

Ladipo Famodu is a researcher, artist, and futurist. He has participated in both SpeculativeEdu workshops this year. He embraces opportunities for experimental, collaborative learning and believes in the power of imagination. His developing practice Astro Afro Studio aims to address the present and future threats to social equality and environmental sustainability by weaponizing art, design, and technology in a creative, subversive manner.

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