Imagining Otherwise encompasses current and past projects at the FHNW Academy of Art and Design, and strives toward socially transformative educational and design practices and more equitable futures.
The project started in October 2018, against the backdrop of massive feminist mobilizations, such as NiUnaMenos, Women's March, and Feminist Strike; and the rising demands from the students for design education that counters patriarchal-colonial narratives. Inspired by the research and activism of Palestinian design educator and researcher Danah Abdulla, we joined forces to start imagining design otherwise—a practice that is critical, situated, reflexive, and socially transformative.
Believing in the transformative potential of design and echoing Colombian anthropologist Arturo Escobar's words, we began asking ourselves: “How can design be infused with a more explicit sense of politics?” How can we participate in the recentering of design education by specifically situating it in relation to structures of inequality, sexism, racism, and colonialism? And how can we disrupt hegemonic epistemologies, ontologies, and systems from within a Eurocentric institution, and strive toward more equitable, pluralistic futures?
On this website, you can delve into different projects realized since 2018. They do not attempt to answer the aforementioned questions, nor to provide universally replicable solutions. Instead, they invite you to open your mind to alternatives, and to open up spaces of potential for change—as expressed by feminist activist and writer bell hooks: “a space where there is unlimited access to the pleasure and power of knowing, where transformation is possible.”
Co-directors: Mayar El-Bakry, Maya Ober and Laura Pregger
Imagining Otherwise was co-conceived by Maya Ober and Laura Pregger. In 2019, Mayar El-Bakry joined the team to co-curate Educating Otherwise, a continuing education program.
Color is one of the most important design elements for those who shape our visual world – from artists to architects, manufacturers to marketers, politicians to activists, and beyond. Instead of focusing solely on the optical, material, and aesthetic aspects of color, this seminar looked at how the hues people use are intertwined with the political and social spheres we live in. Together we embarked on a quest to start disentangling and understanding these colorful webs of power.
Colors are not neutral. And their meanings are not natural. What connotations or even feelings colors engender is influenced by material conditions, economic aspects, political interests, and social structures. While these meanings are fluid and change from time to time and from culture to culture, many do reach back far into history and have far-reaching influence on social hierarchies and power structures in general. And designers and artists play a part in all this. We reference and amplify these constructed meanings of colors, and thereby also perpetuate the power structures embedded in colors. As designers, we should be aware of the dangerous sides of the colors we use.
We propose to think like detectives for a minute. Because research is not unlike detective work. You have a premise, a question, a puzzle, a crime that you want to investigate and ultimately prove or disprove by investigating specific suspects. Colors commit crimes, too.
Of course, we are here not talking about crime in primarily legal terms, but in a broader sense: as anything that has or has had a negative impact on the world. We are not only interested in crimes that directly lead to injury or death (such as negligence or poisoning), but also in what we may call “social crimes” (that is, acts and structures of hate, discrimination, harassment, or exploitation – such as colonialism, racism, gender or class inequality, social persecution or oppression), or “environmental crimes” (such as pollution, the killing or endangering of species, or the culprits of climate change).
We want this seminar to be about self-guided research. It should be you who decides which criminal department you will go into. What kind of crime would you want to investigate? As you do the reading for next week, we want you to identify different crimes that colors may be implicated with and think about which crime you would be most interested in investigating and why.
Your task for next week is to: 1) pick a crime and 2) look for a color or a set of colors that is/are implicated in that crime.
Or the German edition:
Now we will start a specific investigation. After last week's color crime thought experiment, we want you to pick a color under a specific political viewpoint – be that for its implication in a political power structure, a social issue, and/or an activist movement. Send us your chosen colors by mail together with the following information: Think about a title and write 1-3 sentences that describe a political aspect of that color (or even specific case, context, or example) that you want to interrogate.
After this you will be asked to prepare a presentation of min. 20 minutes. The form your presentation takes is completely up to you. You are also free to present either in English or German.