ABOUT

This is a thesis studying postcolonial theory and conversations, particularly from non-hegemonic communities. It seeks to decolonize the field of design, eliminate white supremacy from design education, and center the Other. The Other refers to those who have been displaced to societal margins. Through deep analysis of the effects of imperialism and colonialism, this thesis intends to eradicate the idea that Western thought and values are the beginning and end of knowledge. While this process involves an element of deplatforming and reversal, it is not so simple as improving representation or diversifying the field: it also involves the reframing of theory and research around the experiences and concerns of the Other as a way of dismantling colonialist power.
My name is nico cabanayan. I am completing my MFA in Communication Design at Pratt Institute. I am a multidisciplinary artist with an interest in critical theory and postcolonial studies. I am also a grassroots organizer in Queens with a deep respect and love for my community. I come from the Yaqui people and have the privilege to be living on Lenape territory.

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AN ANALYSIS

Currently, although the idea of colonization in design has grown in popularity, much of the work is either being done on an individual level or leans heavily on neoliberal ideas of improved representation or surface-level diversity. This thesis is attempting to provide a framework of critical theory to take steps towards dismantling white supremacy in the field of design and design education. Western design studies categorically exclude the Other in favor of hegemonic design practice; by rejecting or reframing hegemonic practice, white supremacy in design education can be eradicated, and the Other can be centered. This is important for everyone who cares about dismantling white supremacy and fighting against the forces of colonization and imperialism. 
Due to my own lived experiences, fighting against white supremacy and colonization is imperative, not only for my life generally but also, by extension, for my work as a designer and artist. However, because of the Eurocentric canon that dominates design education, colonialist thought is still perpetuated in the design field, often from the beginning of one’s studies. It is necessary to design in ways that look beyond the styles and movements of European design. Design can become a tool for resistance against colonialism and white supremacy, but only if the Other is designing for the Other, and not for the benefit of the non-marginalized. 

Furthermore, marginalized communities have been producing designed objects and artifacts for centuries. While they may not have been designing posters or books, it is detrimental to the field of design as a whole to discount these works, as they so often are when held up to Eurocentric standards of design. When the scope of design is thus limited, it becomes impossible to measure how much information and work is being lost simply for being deemed unimportant or irrelevant to the dominant colonizer culture.
This is why design education must strive to teach non-hegemonic design history and movements, so that valuable works and information do not become lost.

I also see myself as working within a lineage of postcolonialist thinkers. This thesis is not the first or only attempt to explore these ideas, and to seek alternate possibilities for the future of this particular field of study; because of this, I aim to use my research to build upon the work that others have already completed. Though my work focuses specifically on the field of design, it would be disingenuous not to reference the myriad of thinkers working in postcolonial studies whose ideas have propelled the thoughts presented in this thesis.

As marginalized people seek to dismantle colonization and white supremacy in every field of education and the world at large, a thesis regarding the decolonization of design feels like a definite first step.

While I, of course, know and am not so self-centered to think that this thesis alone is not enough to eradicate hegemonic design practice, I am hopeful that my research can serve as the beginnings of a useful framework for decolonizing design and destroying white supremacy. With a stronger foundation in place for the decolonization of design as a whole, the Eurocentric canon of design education can be reimagined so that marginalized designers and artists can more easily learn about non-hegemonic design movements and styles. In this way, we can also maintain the traditions and histories of design from historically and categorically excluded groups. When marginalized designers and artists have access to education regarding the practices of non-hegemonic groups, they can design for themselves and not to the tastes of the dominant culture. In this way, we can strive towards an anti-colonialist, anti-white supremacist design field, and as a result, a more interesting and complex world.

TABO: A VISUAL STUDY