1 // Black Future Month 2012 // Nick James, Iconographer
Posted on February 1, 2012
If it were 1926, and I were Carter G. Woodson, I’d be trying to convince a host of first time practitioners of the merit of Negro History Week. If it were 1976, I’d be of the first to celebrate Black History Month. It is 2012, and yes, ever important for Africans living in diaspora to probe our own histories. Perhaps, though, the best way to honor folks like Woodson — oft quoted as he expressed hope that Negro History Week would “outlive its usefulness” — is to innovate on the idea. For the second year in succession, Thickwitness will run a blog series called Black Future Month.
Here, our task is two fold. We laud young, gifted, black futurists: those innovating in their respective fields and pushing towards the time to come. We also honor the pioneering ancestors and elders who set precedents in the arts, humanities and politics. Join us daily in February 2012 as we salute 29 tastemakers and their 29 forbearers. It’s a leap year, and in the future, the people can fly.
We begin Black future month 2012 where we ended in 2011 — celebrating the design aesthetic of Nick James. There was a brief lil head nod in Nick’s direction at the end of February last year, since he designed our first Black Future Tee. But we ain’t really give the dude his dues. As an iconographer and designer living in Oakland, CA, Nick guides political and artistic discussion through his use of color, pixel and style.
A graduate of San Francisco State University’s Sociology/Black Studies Program, Nick has worked at a number of Bay Area Based non-profits and educational establishments (Youth Together, Youth Speaks, The Institute for the Advanced Study of Black Family Life and Culture), as full-time designer, full-time pedagogist, part-time mess talker. Or maybe the inverse. He talks a whole lotta mess. But in good measure. He’s also quite the talented music producer, first making international ripples with his remixes of Jay-Z’s Black Album back in 2001 — and since releasing a series of mixtapes, EPs under a banner of his creation, “The Free Experience”.
Oh, yeah. Nick’s one of the brainiacs behind Red, Bike and Green responsible not only for the all black rider’s club’s visual identity, but an active leader organizationally, and on community rides. Nick’s easily one of the most driven folks in the San Francisco Bay Area, and does the gargantuan task of honing his talents across a number of disciplines. His musicality, love of his people, and intellect all shine through in his visual sensibility. As viewers take in Nick’s designs, we’re challenged to think critically, feel deeply and to respond. He helps to set the tone for movements. Mr. James, as only the best designers are, is endowed with the ability to activate through diagram — to make tangible change through image. See?
When Thickwit first began to think about who might be noted as an elder responsible for trailblazing Nick James’ path — there were some easy, logical parallels to Panther iconographer Emory Douglas. True, true, OG Douglas did a good deal of pioneering so that folks like Nick might do their respective, respectful, thangs.
Through deeper study, though, we identified an ancestor who lay groundwork for both James and Douglas — South African Iconographer Thamsaqa “Thami” Mnyele. Mnyele, credited with designing the modern logo for the ANC, helped to craft the visual identity of the anti-Apartheid movement, up until his assassination in 1985, well before his 40th birthday. Prior to his death, and while living in exile in Gaborone, Botswana, Mnyele helped to establish Medu Art Ensemble. Founded in ’79 Medu was an allegiance of mostly exiled South Africans, who considered themselves not artists but cultural workers. Mnyele worked through Medu as a writer, activist and propagandist — largely responsible for the creation of 50 some odd posters between ’79 and ’85. Some of his work, here:
We’re loving the readily apparent ties between the work of Thami Mnyele and Nick James. At Thickwit we vision the future of iconography and design. We and applaud the artistry of Nick James and are proud to sweat his futurist technique.