CB2 Black in Design Collective

Studio Anansi’s Latest Collaboration with CB2 Materializes the Unlimited Possibility of Black Futures

Evan Jerry was, in his own words, on a quest to explore the relationship between contemporary design and Black culture when he founded Studio Anansi in 2018. Now five years into the artist’s practice, he has launched the Black in Design Collective, a collection of works curated in partnership with, and for sale at, CB2 that brings together 11 Black artists from Los Angeles to Lagos, including Jerry himself. 

With an assortment of clay busts, oak benches, woven vases, brass mirrors, and travertine side tables, each piece has a story: Jean-Marc Bullett’s console table, La Traversée, takes its name from the French word for Black people’s forced movement and enslavement across the Atlantic Sea in the 1700s; Lani Adeoye’s curtains draw from the Yoruba people of Nigeria, featuring Adire, a traditional hand-painted cloth; Tavia Forbes’ and Monet Masters’ Cornrows area rug represents the pride and history surrounding Black women’s hair; Luam Melake’s dining chair reflects on the symbol of the barbershop, what the artist deems “a stand-in for an entire community, a social space, and a ritual that’s a part of the Black experience”; and Jerry’s concrete dining table speaks to the item’s foundational role in bringing Black families together in cultural celebration. 

The range of pieces respond to Studio Anansi’s initial question around the project: How do you see the future of design if Blackness was included? The result makes tangible the heterogeneity of Black culture — spanning centuries, materials, objects, and themes. It calls to mind a quote from the introduction to Kimberly Drew’s and Jenna Wortham’s Black Futures: “Blackness is infinite… We are in a continuum of those who came before and those who will come after.”

This week, I sat down with Jerry to learn more about the impetus behind the project and how design can interrogate the breadth and depth of Black narratives.

Chair by Axel Mert, rug by Forbes Masters, side table by Jerome Byron

Bench by Studio Anansi, mirror by Lani Adeoye of Studio Lani

Bench by Studio Anansi

Tell me more about how you came up with the idea for this collection with CB2. 

The studio was conceived as a way to incorporate Black-centered storytelling with design. Because that was not of focus — I did not see a lot of this [intersection] at the time. I was almost on this quest to understand how Black cultural references exist or can be incorporated within design. I was approached by CB2 in 2018. We had an ongoing relationship, and they had expressed their interest in working toward more diversity and equitability. So, in 2020, when everything was happening in the world with Black Lives Matter, I approached them with this project connecting Black designers in a way that showcases their talents and works. 

How did you select the 10 designers who are in this collection?

The approach was always to have global representation, not just a North American or Western viewpoint. I was searching for what other people were doing in other parts of the world, and there were designers I was already following. But every selected designer already had a very strong point of view, no matter where they were in their career.

Through these various viewpoints, you’re demonstrating the breadth of Black storytelling with designers. It’s not homogeneous. 

That is exactly the point of the project. We often hear “Blackness” and “Black identity.” But what is that? It’s so many different things, and that’s what I love about what the designers showcase. Some delve into more historic areas, some take tactical approaches, others are more about material. My work, for example, is about connectivity and family. 

What is design’s role in illustrating the diversity of Black culture? 

What comes to mind is accessibility. Everything we participate in in our world is design. And it’s either thought of inclusively and responsibly and respectfully or it’s not. Particularly at a certain level, design is meant only for those who can afford it. So I think design’s role in our future is to be purposeful in its inclusivity, especially with Black storytelling. With this project, I was very mindful not to interfere with how individuals related to their Black identity through design. This project allowed for space, which I don’t think we often have. And then we don’t fall into any trope of what we think Black design is, or what it means to be Black in design. We’re presenting something that is authentic to how we live today as contemporary Black designers. The question we posed to the designers for this project was: How do you see the future of design if Blackness was included?

Table by Studio Anansi, chair by Luam Melake, light by Axel Mert

Console by Jerome Byron, bust by Sandra Githinji, planter by Studio Anansi

Lamp bust, coffee table, and pedestal by Sandra Githinji

What is your response to that? 

My work often looks very different. I think oftentimes the design world wants to [label], like ‘oh you’re into Brutalist forms, that’s your thing.’ When, no, I was into Brutalism because I lived in London and was taking in all this architecture. But then I moved to rural Canada and now am in a very natural environment. So what I’m experiencing here is reflected in my work. The navigation and movement of Black people — many of these designers might live in New York now, but they’re from, say, Nigeria. I think a Black future perspective is not limited to anything. I think it has a global, broad representation and permission to allow itself to be influenced by everything. 

A future where you don’t have to pigeonhole yourself. What does it mean for this to be filtered through a company like CB2?

I was very interested in doing this with CB2 because of the accessibility for a broader audience—people who are not necessarily industry followers or design enthusiasts. Designers like Jerome Byron, whose amazing work exists in a more niche sector of carpenter workshop galleries, can reach the most people possible.

You mentioned this quest for Black culture’s representation in design. What are some examples you’ve discovered or created yourself, in this collection or otherwise?

I did a project exploring Africa in the 1950s and 60s and modern architecture’s role at a time when Africa was having this surge of independence. Through that research, it was like looking at modernism. I learned that Black culture is already embedded in a lot of what we see as Eurocentric design. These standards, like Picasso and Bauhaus, were influenced by African forms and motifs; and I think there’s a deconstruction of that. There’s nothing wrong with influence. I think it’s fantastic to be influenced by other things people create. But moving forward, what I hope to see with this project and others is that we reference what we’re inspired by and we give credit to what we’re inspired by.

Couch by Axel Mert, coffee table and light by Sandra Githinji Studio, rug by Forbes Masters

Lamp by Sandra Githinji Studio

We often hear “Blackness” and “Black identity.” But what is that? It’s so many different things, and that’s what I love about what the designers showcase.

Historically, we’re not very good at giving credit. There’s a line between inspiration and exploitation. And the work you’re doing is creating larger discussions around that line, around equity, and more. 

Narrative and storytelling were the key factors in this project. The storytelling of the pieces, of the designers, of the global reach. And sure, not everybody’s going to see it right away. But some might. Some might have a piece in their home and convey that story to someone else. Then, there’s an educational process where people who may have not been exposed now understand this exists. And if that even happens with a handful of people, that is beautiful. 

Console by Atelier Bullett, light by Dach & Zephir, rug by Luam Melake

Bench by Jerome Byron

Read the inspirations behind our favorite pieces:

Evan Jerry of Studio Anansi

“The dining table is a place where black families come together for cultural celebration. With architectural influences, this large dining table’s concrete materiality symbolizes the foundation of the Black family, in which the sharing of food is often the soul of the family connection.”“This bench unites two seats with a center U-shaped structure, symbolizing the unity within Black cultures. The bench is a visual representation of individual black people, cultures, and identities merging together into a global unit while still being seen individually.”

Luam Melake

“While walking around in Harlem, I started to notice that the many barbershops and salons in the area all seem to have similar chairs. They often feature tubular metal with heavy, tufted vinyl and look like they were designed between the 1950s and the 1970s. It occurred to me that the barbershop chair might be the only chair in America that more Black people have sat on than any other racial group. The chair itself is a stand-in for an entire community — a social space and a ritual that’s a part of the Black experience.”

Dmitri Zephir of Dach + Zephir

“The lamp is inspired by the big tropical leaves found on the sides of the rivers in Guadeloupe. The brass shade is a direct interpretation of those leaves, whereas the structure evokes movement and balance — as if the wind could make them move. The pendant is fully made in brass with a bulb placed directly under the leaf.”“In homage to the typical West Indian expression ‘ki ka fè dièz’ — who has style — the sofa is designed with a unique backrest in a rolled shape. It wraps around a full ash structure that’s a direct reference to the classic creole sofa armrest (itself inspired by an Anglo-Saxon sofa).”

Sandra Githinji of Sandra Githinji Studio

“This table references the thatched roofs that are prominent within sub-saharan Africa and their layered construction. In Kikuyu homesteads, the placement of the roof covering was done by women, after the men had finished the structural elements. The veining of the travertine stone channels the textural qualities of grass reeds.”“This mirror takes inspiration from ancient Egyptian self-care practices and the tools used for them. As early as 2900 BC, the Egyptians made mirrors using polished bronze shaped into flat, round discs resembling the sun-god Ra, with handles made of wood, metal, or ivory. According to their belief, every individual had a double called a Ka, which symbolized their fundamental genius, energy, and identity.”“The lamp’s design is inspired by the belief of ancient African civilizations that hair served as a pathway for divine communication, as it was the highest point on the human body. The Yoruba people referred to it as ‘Ori,’ or head, which represented an individual’s spiritual intuition and destiny. It was believed to be a reflective essence of human consciousness. The Ori lamps take inspiration from traditional African hairstyles, which are reflected in the texture of the lamp’s body. The lamp’s top, which serves as the light source, symbolizes the divine ancestral realm.”“This table draws inspiration from Kikuyu cosmology, and the four-legged traditional stools made specifically for women by professional wood carvers from a singular tree trunk, with no joints. The dome is the sky, supported by the four sacred mountains symbolically represented in the women’s Kikuyu stools.”

Jerome Byron

“The console and side tables are made from cast aluminum. The ever-so-slight overlap of their stacked aluminum planes form a checkerboard pattern which reinforces the rigid and heavy structure — all the while appearing paper-thin and lightweight.”“The oak benches borrow shapes and forms from man-made and natural structures. What makes them special to me is the moment where the curve of the cylindrical seat meets the orthogonal forms of the legs.”

Axel Mert of Studio Satël

“The armchair (and sofa) resemble the big and heavy furniture commonly used in Caribbean interiors. However, traditional wood is replaced by the powder-coated steel of urban furniture. I worked on every detail to create a comfortable piece meant to fully take its place in a living room. I think the contrasts between steel and leather (warm and cold), and between the fineness of the steel and the massive shape of the sofa, give it a strong personality.”

Tavia Forbes and Monet Masters of Forbes Masters

“The rug is a representation of Black hair culture and the strides that Black women have taken to create community through support and collaboration. The two ‘heads’ meet, sharing a bond that forms a continuous shape, much like the bond between creators Tavia and Monet.”

Elan Byrd

“Basketry is one of the oldest ancient crafts, and one that’s specifically aligned with the ethos that embraces the connection between earth and hand. I wanted to design an oversized two-tone basket with ornamentation that still reflected the original utilitarian use, and a set of baskets with no ornamentation but the silhouette of a more traditional ceramic vase that shows the transition of the West’s use of baskets for a more decorative purpose. What makes these baskets special to me is that they’re a reflection of the materials I often work with throughout my artwork. I wanted to use raffia and other plant fibers in the traditional and practical vessel and embrace the concept of duality through a two-tone palette.”

Garth Roberts

“These grid-embossed vases and containers have a simple, modern silhouette, but in oversize proportions. The irregular pattern and matte finish create a subtle visual rhythm. The haptic allure of the object is also enhanced by the finely textured surface finish of the glaze. The proportions of the objects allow them to not only accessorize a space, but also act as a visual anchor in the room they inhabit.”