Entertainment

Jahnavi Inniss Uses Quilting to Address the Gaps in Black British History

“I wanted to dismantle the ‘single story’ that suggests that Black people had only arrived in Britain after the Second World War, in the late-1940s, during the Windrush period.”
August 25, 2020, 3:17pm
'Black British History Quilt' by Jahnavi Inniss UAL Graduate
Throughout August, VICE UK will be spotlighting projects from graduates across University of the Arts London.

Every summer, University of the Arts London holds physical showcases for their graduates. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, everything for 2020 has been moved online, to UAL Graduate Showcase – a virtual platform created with IBM, hosting work from thousands of students across art, design, fashion, communication, media and performing arts.

Throughout August, VICE UK will be spotlighting projects from graduates across the six colleges that make up University of the Arts London.

Artist: Jahnavi Inniss

Reflecting on her responsibility as a designer and a curator to influence the construction of social attitudes towards groups of underrepresented communities, Jahnavi Inniss’ practice is primarily focused on surfacing lesser-known narratives, dismantling “single stories” and providing visibility and empowerment for these demographics.

While looking at the current presentations (and lack thereof) of Black British history, she saw the ways in which it is treated as insignificant and of minimal importance.

“I noticed frequent silent gaps in the timeline of Black British history, and I wanted to give visibility to the existence and contributions of Black people in Britain between the 17th and 19th centuries”, she says. “I wanted to dismantle the ‘single story’ that suggests that Black people had only arrived in Britain after the Second World War, in the late-1940s, during the Windrush period.”

Black British History quilt by Jahnavi Inniss

'Black British History' quilt by CSM graduate Jahnavi Inniss

Inniss experimented with and adapted a variety of different design mediums and their associated meanings, exploring grassroots publishing, public monuments, memorials and murals, as well as delving into the current education curriculum.

For the Black British History Quilt project, Inniss adapted the cultural technique of quilting, using Stuart Hall’s Representation Theory and Roland Barthes’ Semiotic Theory to embed meaning and present this history in a way that declares it as of great value and importance, making it hard to ignore.

“Black people have made significant contributions to British society that have gone unrecognised, as Black British history is often deliberately excluded from mainstream British history discourse,” she says. “I wanted to create a means of visibility and empowerment where Black Brits are reminded of their rich history and its legacies.”

Black British History quilt by Jahnavi Inniss

Final outcome: 'Black British History' quilt by CSM graduate Jahnavi Inniss

Discover more at the UAL Graduate Showcase.