Black Designers From Theaster Gates and Prada Group Cohort Take Their Talent to Venice Architecture Biennale

As promised, artist Theaster Gates and Prada Group are helping pave paths of access for creatives of color.

Three members of the 14-person Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab assembled last year for the inaugural three-year collaborative program are making their way to this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, opening Saturday, to show their work.

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When the cohort was announced in April last year, Gates, the brainchild behind the program, told WWD, “The Experimental Design Lab will become both a platform and a pipeline for exceptional Black and brown designers to be acknowledged for their brilliance and considered for creative opportunities at the top levels of artistic collaboration.”

And he’s making good on his word.

Architectural designers Mariam Kamara and Germane Barnes, as well as product designer Norman Teague, will take their place at the Biennale. Kamara’s work will be presented alongside Gates, and architects of color from around the world, including Sir David Adjaye, Sumayya Vally, Francis Kéré and Ibrahim Mahama, as part of a Force Majeure exhibition at Giardini, the Central Pavilion.

A view through a corridor featuring architectural high ceilings at Hikma Religious-Secular Complex in Dandaji, Niger by Mariam Kamara.
Mariam Kamara’s work at Hikma Religious-Secular Complex in Dandaji, Niger.

Barnes will be contributing to the Dangerous Liaisons presentation at Arsenale, Corderie, surrounded by a theme that means something to him.

“The Venice Architecture Biennale is the pinnacle of architecture discourse and expression,” he told WWD. “The curatorial theme of centering Africa and the Diaspora is intellectually charged and as a Black American speaks directly to my own spatial practice. A practice that has been supported both creatively and fiscally by the EDL. My position within the larger cohort certainly contributes to broader visibility within the global design community. I am incredibly pleased to possess these two accolades as they both cement my position as a designer on the rise.”

For Teague, he’s taking the opportunity to make a splash about sustainability with an installation titled, “Everlasting Plastics,” done alongside a team of artists and curated Cleveland-based nonprofit gallery Spaces for the Biennale’s U.S. Pavilion. He’ll be designing pieces made of plastic from everyday items like laundry detergent containers and gallons of milk to get people to think more about “the material’s color, scale, function and history,” as well is the impact of plastic waste, according to a news post from the University of Illinois Chicago, where Teague is also an assistant professor of industrial design.

Norman Teague's Cabinet of Curiosities, features a shelf-like cabinet of wood with various small objects on the shelves, next to a structural orange chair.
Norman Teague’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

“My practice, which is rooted in craft and almost purely based on wood, explores plastic as a medium — a malleable material that allows for stretching, extruding, molding to an end that’s both enjoyable and leaves room for narrative, value and structure. I want to stretch its possibilities and catalyze a movement around the lives of plastic,” Teague told WWD.

For Gates, who is also chairman of Prada Group’s diversity and inclusion advisory council, progress since the start of the Experimental Design Lab has been positive.

“A year and a half after launching the Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab with Prada Group’s support, it is gratifying to celebrate the work of designers and architects Norman Teague, Germane Barnes and Mariam Kamara whose contributions to this year’s Biennale demonstrate their design intelligence and rightful place in the canon of architectural history,” he said in a press statement.

Prada has, in the time since the cohort was named, provided both financial and non-monetary support to see the EDL cohort launch new projects or further develop existing ones, bringing the group to Milan to participate in meetings at the house’s headquarters, as well as at Fondazione Prada.

“The nature of the meetings have been celebratory, providing opportunities for mentorship and feedback, networking with top industry leaders in design, and offering additional possibilities for awardees to broaden the scope of their work by being present with and exposed to the world’s leading design projects,” Prada Group told WWD.

The full EDL cohort will assemble in Venice for a retreat alongside the Biennale to “applaud their achievements,” according to Prada.

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