My PhD research focuses on cultural diversity and UK craft, drawing on Black ecological thought and approaches from design and material anthropology. This is my second blog.
As someone who identifies as Jamaican, Sierra Leonean and British (amongst others) it is not an unusual experience for me to be the ‘diverse’ person in the room growing up and working in Britain. Identity has featured heavily in my work since I was a teenager, and I have always struggled with institutional approaches to diversity that begin and end with inclusion (as representation and recognition). It remakes the ‘us’ and ‘them’ narrative – those who automatically belong next to an inserted ‘other’ who is marginal, distant and additive to the space. In these contexts, inclusion remakes the division and repeats the same patterns of exclusion grounded in colonial structures of difference . While craft histories highlight cultures from around the world and contemporary craft delights in developing new craft economies through narratives of social change in low-income communities and innovation for industry, both reproduce colonial asymmetries of power. Through the consumption of the other, maintenance of hierarchical value systems, ideas of the individual/community, property and ownership, craft is intertwined with colonialism and capitalism. Western ideas of craft as activist and counter to these systems are not a given and require a deeper engagement with their own philosophies and values which emerge from the very politics of liberalism. 
Early on in the research, I made the decision to approach cultural diversity through the lens of social and racial justice. Starting here allowed has allowed a shift from questions on inclusion to deeper reflect on what it means to belong in a system founded on oppression and extraction. It has created space to trouble ideas around cultural differences that allow race and racialised structures to be ignored  and has led me to questions on knowledge and ways of knowing. As important as diverse stories are, who they are told by, how they are told and the lens they are filtered through matters. With this in mind, I take the alignment of Blackness and matter within colonial structures to explore ideas of knowledge creation and ways of knowing in and through craft. I attempt to bridge conversations on craft, materials and race, by bringing questions on materials (origins, use, exploitation, knowledge, agency) into conversation with questions about Blackness through acts of making. These acts of making are a mode of knowledge creation and positioned alongside an intentional misreading of the question “Who Makes?” (the title of a Craft Council report on diversity), to take the alignment of Blackness and matter as a generative space reformulated by Black African diasporas and as an opportunity to think and make otherwise . To think and make craft otherwise is to think and make through the perspectives and ideas that exist outside of Western Enlightenment thought, to think from the spaces that run counter to or exist at the borders of the colonial thought, to think from the marginal spaces. In this type of research project, driven by social research questions, both acts of making and Blackness are marginal spaces.
As part of this approach, I have been building on my previous research with Jamaican Lacebark, an African Jamaican material practice, as well as more generalised acts of making to reflect on concepts of Blackness, materials and our entanglements. Shortly I will be opening the collaborative aspect of the project which invites makers who identify as Black African Diaspora to work alongside me, each other and a material of their choice, to further explore our material relationships and how modes of working with might be a way to move towards a craft otherwise.
- Building on my own experiences, I draw on the work of M. Jacqui Alexander and Sara Ahmed who discuss approaches to diversity, particularly in Higher Education but for those interested translates to the creative industries.
- Writer and educator Leopold Kowolik contributed the chapter titled ‘Craft as property as liberalism as problem’ to the book Craft is Political, edited by D. Wood, 2021.
- Academic and artist Denise Ferreira da Silva discusses cultural difference as a product of Enlightenment thinking. Within this framing cultural difference sits alongside biological difference in that is creates a moral and intellectual separation between groups, as culture is bounded and mapped through linear and hierarchical understandings of space and time that result in diminishing some cultures whilst promoting others. In my own thinking, I am not trying then to undermine culture as experienced by communities and individuals, rather to question it’s value and use in approaches that aim to address exclusion/inclusion.
- The Crafts Council report ‘Who Makes? An Analysis of People Working in Craft Occupations’ can be found here.
- The concept of ‘otherwise’ is taken from the work of Arturo Escobar, particularly the paper ‘Worlds and Knowledges Otherwise’ (2007) Cultural Studies, 21:2-3, 179-210. It is a concept widely considered in decolonial thought and practice