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Design and Displacement

Saturday, April 8, 2017 at 10:30 am to 4:30 pm

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum 2 East. 91st Street New York, NY 10128

The Twenty-Sixth Annual Parsons/Cooper Hewitt
Graduate Student Symposium on the History of Design


The challenges faced by vast numbers of migrants and refugees worldwide—uprooted by war, persecution, or ecological crises or relocating in search of economic opportunity—are giving rise to innovative design solutions. Although often urgent, these crises are unfortunately rarely new. This symposium attempts to take a broader historical view of the relationship of design and decorative arts to the displacement and movement of people and populations since the Renaissance. Be it emigré Flemish tapestry weavers across Europe in the 16th and 17th century, enclaves of immigrant artisans in the faubourgs of 18th-century Paris, Huguenot metalsmiths in England fleeing religious persecution, artisans exiled from central Europe in the aftermath of the failed 1848 revolutions, the Bauhaus’ re-establishment after its dissolution by the fascists, or contemporary designers’ migrations all over the world, the movement of populations has spurred great changes in the decorative arts, design and the cultural landscape in general, including the creation of opportunities for new cross-cultural synthesis. Migrations also inspire architectural solutions, such as temporary housing for displaced persons during wartime or following natural disasters, or more substantial interventions into the landscape, such as buildings erected to accommodate the exponential growth of cities like Lagos or Rio de Janeiro. Papers might consider historical or contemporary designers or whole populations. The symposium also seeks to address issues of national and transnational identity as well as the effects of anti-immigrant ethno-nationalism and resistance to it.

The symposium's Catherine Hoover Voorsanger Keynote speaker will be Jeremy Aynsley, professor of design history at the University of Brighton (UK) and chair of the Design History Society. Professor Aynsley’s research interests concern late-19th- and 20th-century design in Europe and the United States, with a particular focus on design in modern Germany, which he has explored in major exhibitions and academic publications including Nationalism and Internationalism in Design in the 20th Century (1994), Graphic Design in Germany 1890–1945 (2000), and Designing Modern Germany (2009). He is especially interested in the phenomenon of the migration of Modernism and is currently working on a project about German graphic designers in the United States on the eve of World War II.

The keynote address will be given on Friday evening, April 7, 2017 at 5:30 p.m. with a reception to follow, and the symposium sessions will be held Saturday, April 8 from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The symposium is sponsored by the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program, offered jointly by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and Parsons School of Design.

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