Revered by everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to Beyoncé, W. E. B. Du Bois stands as one of the most important and influential African American activists and intellectuals of the 20th century.
As co-founder of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and author of the seminal book The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois is celebrated for his profound and prolific writings. But alongside his famous essays, Du Bois produced an astounding yet little-known body of infographics to challenge pseudo-scientific racism, making visual arguments every bit as powerful as his textual ones.
W. E. B. Du Bois: Charting Black Lives opened at House of Illustration
on 8 November 2019. For the first time in the UK, it displays the complete set of 63 graphics shown at the 1900 Paris Exposition, produced by Du Bois and a team of African American students from his sociology laboratory at Atlanta University. These visually innovative graphs, charts and maps formed a radical new approach to refuting racism, using strikingly presented facts and statistics to counter contemporary white supremacy.
In stark contrast to other exhibitors at the Paris Exposition that viewed black people as colonial commodities, Du Bois had one goal: to prove, to an international audience, the essential equality of African American people. By presenting his own research on the achievements of African Americans in the few short years since Emancipation, Du Bois demonstrated that black culture had flourished even within the extreme constraints of violently enforced racial segregation across the Southern states.
Alongside reproductions of Du Boiss graphics, the exhibition presents original artwork by Mona Chalabi, Data Editor at The Guardian, repurposing his distinctively clean lines, arresting shapes and bold primary colours for the 21st century. Chalabis work demonstrates the enduring relevance of Du Boiss data visualisation methods and the racial inequalities he fought against.
W. E. B. Du Bois: Charting Black Lives is co-curated by Paul Goodwin, Professor at the University of the Arts London, a curator, scholar and specialist in black urbanism. Exhibition designer Violetta Boxill will reference Du Boiss original exhibition design based on photographs from 1900, now in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
Exhibition co-curator Katie Nairne of House of Illustration says: W. E. B. Du Bois data visualisations confronted 1900 audiences with undeniable evidence that black lives matter. Were delighted to be presenting this often-overlooked body of work from a century ago alongside artwork Mona Chalabi is producing today encouraging this crucial conversation to continue.
Exhibition co-curator Prof Paul Goodwin of the University of the Arts, London, says: Im delighted to co-curate the first comprehensive showing in the UK of these seminal data visualisation charts that helped to put Black lives at the centre of social debates while also helping to pioneer the emerging arts of data visualisation. This exhibition will enable audiences in the UK to gain a greater understanding of the incredible range of W.E.B. Duboiss scholarship and activism and inspire a new generation of scholar-activists across many fields of social and political intervention.