Hi Sheila, thanks for the response. The piece was not meant to be an attack on any specific individual or institution. It was a general critique on several levels:

  1. a critique of the definitions of decoloniality and decolonization (which, as I’d pointed out, are very specific and must be distinguished from other approaches in cultural theory: postcoloniality, transcoloniality, subaltern studies, diaspora\transnational theory etc.) — decoloniality as a concept has a very specific history and means a very specific framing of the legacy of colonialism (which itself is distinguished from ‘coloniality’). This extends to ideas in design about how to deal with issues of indigeniety and culture (how is respectful design decolonial, and if it isn’t, then what distinguishes it from decolonial design?). I pointed out that the way that the article lays out its definitions and frames decoloniality is problematic because they don’t really have anything to do with the way the terms are used in cultural theory. The AIGA article never talks about what decoloniality is and how OCAD’s approach is specifically decolonial. Any scholar studying cultural theory and especially decoloniality from a humanities or social sciences perspective would point this out. I find it problematic because it shows that the terms have just been taken and transported into design without any real understanding of what they mean. What I’m asking for above is more nuanced and complex arguments when it comes to talking about culture, coloniality, politics of race, ethnicity, indigeniety etc., not more simple, reductive ones.
  2. it is a critique of the kinds of designerly interventions being termed as having a decolonial agenda. What I’m basically saying is: “we (indigenous designers) have been very hasty in taking action and getting a lot of work done without really thinking deeply on who and what we are given that we still live in coloniality, and on why and how we should be acting. We need to stop doing stuff and really take a step back and reflect and think about a lot of very complex and difficult things, like identity, modernity, and the larger systems we are a part of.” In short, we need to ask ourselves first: who we are(and the answer to ‘we’ will be very different depending on whether you are an immigrant or part of the native peoples or someone from outside the Anglo-European sphere), and then: are we really addressing the roots of exploitation, bigotry, lack of representation, etc. or are we feeding oppressive systems further given their pervasiveness?
  3. it is a critique of communication design as a discipline, but really, the crit could extend to all the other design disciplines. It lays out a simple premise: that design isn’t merely about aesthetics or representation…it determines who and what we are (it is ontological), and designed artifacts cannot be separated from the larger, local and global, institutions, industries and systems that they are a part of (it is political). From this point of view, designers who take on a decolonial agenda should be rethinking the role that communication design plays as a mode of cultural production, and in fact, be thinking about what communication design could be other than what it is now (i.e. instead of manufacturing ever more goods to be consumed by a market that reduces and fetishizes cultural difference and sustains specific worldviews and lifestyles).

I’m not saying that hiring indigenous candidates, or more people of color, is a bad thing — it is probably a good thing at OCAD. But what I will say is that at precisely this important moment in design discourse when these issues of culture, politics, ethics etc. are finally being raised we need to be very careful and start asking really hard questions about the nature of our discipline (that design may in fact be, by its very definition and given its history, a field that is a product of coloniality and that colonizes) and about ourselves and our relation to our field and to the larger social, cultural, economic and political systems that we are a part of. The AIGA article is poorly researched and probably does a bad job of representing the initiatives underway at OCAD. Critique and debate at this point should be something welcome, and not something to shy away from — that was the entire point of establishing the Decolonizing Design platform as an open platform.

PhD Candidate, Design Studies || Carnegie Mellon University || Design from the Global South || Modernity\Coloniality, South Asian Technics, Power

PhD Candidate, Design Studies || Carnegie Mellon University || Design from the Global South || Modernity\Coloniality, South Asian Technics, Power