Writing paper-based essays has never been the only way to compose. Whether as a high school teacher or as a college instructor, I have never taught a class where multimedia projects were not incorporated into the course. I have never even used a syllabus that did not incorporate visual images. How can you teach about Shirley Chisholm’s rhetorical boldness and vision and not show her, quite literally, wearing that signature slogan, “Unbought and Unbossed”? In a digital age, we understand all of this as multimedia composing, the kind of textual production that is critical to 21st century literacies. As someone always interested in the visual arts but never really an artist, multimedia composing was simply how I learned, organized my ideas, and shaped the spaces I was in. The background images on this site are part of that personal history.
Above is a collage that I call “continuities” of various drawings that I have done over the past years. There are three women’s portraits— each portrait represents a charcoal drawing that I did in an attempt to witness/remember the semblance of women who I know. Together, the three, differing portraits form a visual arc from the bottom right to the top left. There are two men’s portraits: one is a charcoal drawing of a college friend; the other is a charcoal drawing of an MC from a famous 1990s Hip Hop group who first taught me about the Nation of Gods and Earths (if you know Hip Hop, then you should recognize who this portrait represents). There are also two statues representing Nigeria’s Benin Empire. The Benin statues and my portraits came together one day when I was studying structural-facial semblances, resulting in the collage that appears here. The background graphics are a compilation of Adinkra symbols from the Akan of Ghana, the clearest example for me of the textual work that symbols do. For the website’s background, I used computer graphics to re-inscribe the visual message. As a collage, I named this work, “continuities,” not because I intend to suggest there is a constant, unchanging sameness across gender, aesthetics, time, and place for people of African descent, but because I intend to engage what black folk have always had to do: construct their own wholeness and humanity despite the world around them— that is the changing sameness. This collage, “continuities,” is everywhere right now in my life: the wallpaper on my phone, ipad, laptop; I use it as stationery, etc. This is just something I have always done: use a graphic image to ground my physical space and root me in some particular purpose that I communicate to myself and my surroundings visually. These practices are certainly not unique to my own individual literate identity. Perhaps the visual malleability is what attracts so many of us to digital technologies.
I am hoping that the visual design of this site matches the visual design of my pedagogy and curriculum. I want to avoid overdone, pre-packaged color-blocking and corporate “branding” (like the design of most college websites). This site was inevitable, but not work I was clamoring to do (I avoid a good deal of social networking in its now uber-consumerism). Across many different universities now, I have used “learning” management systems (i.e., blackboard) because traditional, paper/photocopied syllabi and classroom activities removed color, blurred columns and tables, and confined all other things that paper tends to rhetorically limit. But each year, all those university “teaching” platforms get more and more co-opted with more corporate “streamlining” and less flexibility in terms of making visual spaces that can communicate ethnic and cultural meanings. In the least, the visual design of this site signals an ongoing experiment.