Kelly Walters

Exhibition Artist Statement: In July 2021, I flew to Wisconsin (on my first flight since the pandemic began and my first ever trip to Wisconsin). Over the course of 3 weeks, I looked through the Enquirer Collection in search of imagery related to sexism, female representation, misogyny and race. Hyper-sexualized images of the female body, performing as dancers and models, were a dominant aspect of the collection. By looking at close details of hair styles, clothing for instance, to language used to describe women themselves, the collection painted a picture of coveted white beauty. My time at the residency was both an exciting one and one that was extremely challenging because my practice, in contrast, typically explores representations that engage with historical Black representations. In gathering research during my time in Wisconsin, I came across an article featuring Claudia Rankine talking about her book Citizen. Midway through the article it said, “The invisibility of Black women is astounding.” This phrase stuck with me. This was what I was feeling.

This body of work entitled “Production of Desire,” demonstrates tensions that can be found within Black and white forms of femininity, beauty and visibility. As a design practitioner, I am often thinking of what it means to experience something through the lens of “someone or something else.” In a lot of ways, “Production of Desire” made me think through the lens of whiteness and its positionality of white women. The historical artifacts that comprised these letterpress works draw inspiration from the Hamilton’s collections, and seek to challenge pre-existing racial and gender bias prevalent in graphic design of the early 20th century.

Kelly Walters is an artist + designer + educator + researcher and the founder of Bright Polka Dot. Her practice includes teaching, writing and experimental publishing, with a particular focus on race and representation in design. Her ongoing design research interrogates the complexities of identity formation, systems of value and the shared vernacular in and around black visual culture. Kelly has worked as a designer for SFMOMA, the RISD Museum, Alexander Isley, Inc. Designers and Blue State. In 2015, she completed her MFA in Graphic Design from the Rhode Island School of Design. She was awarded an Association of Independent Colleges of Art & Design (AICAD) Teaching Fellowship in the Graphic Design program at California College of the Arts from 2015-2016. She has previously taught at the University of Bridgeport, Rhode Island School of Design, University of Connecticut and Central Saint Martins. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Communication Design and the Associate Director of the BFA Communication Design Program at Parsons School of Design in New York.