This is America: 15 diverse design practices shine in Milan

This is America: 15 diverse design practices shine in Milan

The inaugural edition of ‘This is America’ at Alcova during Milan Design Week 2022 puts the work of 15 diverse American design practices in full view 

Design fairs can often feel homogeneous, despite all the creativity and innovation on view. Milan Design Week, the world’s preeminent design showcase, championed a Eurocentric perspective and aesthetic for decades, but despite calls for greater diversity in design, it is not easy to turn the tide.

This is a challenge the organisers of ‘This is America’, a multifaceted exhibition of American design installed this year at Alcova during Fuorisalone 2022, have gamely taken on. The first curatorial collaboration between the design-focused public relations collective Hello Human and the experience design studio Aditions, both US-based, is a contemporary survey that presents a fresh and optimistic view of US design, while sparking discussions about diversity and inclusion in the wider design world. 

This is America at Alcova

A grid of six black and white portraits of American designers taking part in This is America at Alcova
Top row from left: Santiago Braby Brown and Maria Teresa Castillo of Forma Rosa Studio; Jaeyeon Park; Alara Alkan. Bottom row from left: Jialun Xiong; Bruno Nakano of Studio Mano; Dylan Davis and Jean Lee of Ladies & Gentlemen Studio

Both Hello Human founder Jenny Nguyen and Aditions co-founder Alma Lopez-Moses are women of colour, who understand the value of representation firsthand. ‘We started with an idea in mind – that “a rising tide lifts all boats” – so we decided to play to our strengths in communication and experience design, pool our resources, and create the conversation we wanted to have in Milan.

‘We knew it might not happen if we didn’t do it ourselves,’ says Nguyen, who first met Lopez-Moses during Office Hours, a social initiative that cultivates knowledge-sharing between BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) creatives. ‘American design itself is not underrepresented at Milan Design Week; there’s a big American design contingent! However, I think when you ask the average person who they picture when they think of an American designer, it’s probably a white cis male. And they wouldn’t be mistaken in thinking that, because these are the designers who are largely represented and have the resources to show in Milan.’ 

chair by jialun xiong, participant in This is America show of American design
‘Folds’ single sofa, by Jialun Xiong. Renders by Kevin Chung

‘We knew that we wanted to make this about underrepresented designers. And to tell you the truth, we had a lot of hard conversations about what “underrepresented” even meant to all three of us and our teams,’ adds Lopez-Moses, who co-founded Aditions in 2021 with Liz Wert, also a co-curator of this exhibition. ‘After we received submissions, we went back to the drawing board a number of times until we got to the final line-up. Ultimately, we decided to have a majority cross-section of BIPOC-identifying designers, as well as female-identifying designers. But this is honestly just the tip of the iceberg, and we are fully aware that there are so many more underrepresented groups that we could and should highlight. We just wish there were more time and resources to do so.’

For its inaugural edition, ‘This is America’ puts the work of 15 design practices in full view. In a concerted effort to avoid perceptions of an overarching canon, vernacular or method – be it midcentury design, the more recent maker movement, or the popular tropes of Americana – the exhibition purposefully showcases a wide range of styles and objects, to reorient the ideas of what American design is and who American designers are. 

shelving unit by kate greenberg, participant in This is America at Alcova, a show of American design
‘Steam’ shelf, by Kate Greenberg

The result is a vivid mix of furniture, sculpture, lighting and ceramics that collectively express an American identity through their creators’ response to topics such as cultural diversity, decolonisation, climate migration, post-pandemic life, materiality and craftsmanship.

Lopez-Moses says, ‘We want to show diversity not only in the people behind the design, but also in the work itself. Because in reality, these creatives all come from different backgrounds and have different points of view from which they design and [regarding] for whom they design. The point of showcasing such a large breadth of work, one that we think of as a survey of American design today, is to show the essence of America, which is the melting pot we all live and work in. We hope the show will help viewers move away from stereotypes that labels might conjure up, and see instead that there’s a lot more diversity in expression, style, cultural reference and narrative behind it, and us all.’ §

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