Visiting Mcllroy Professor Silas Munro Inspires New Futures for More Inclusive Design Conversations

Silas Munro
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Silas Munro

As the semester comes to a close, the School of Art in the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences expresses sincere gratitude to Silas Munro, one of this year's 2020-21 Mcllroy Family Visiting Professors in the Visual Performing Arts.

The established designer and educator engages a multi-modal practice in hopes of inspiring people to elevate themselves and improve society. 

Munro shared his research and expertise with the School of Art through a spring design course and delivered a school-wide lecture, Bearing Witness: A Designer's Struggle for Integrity, held earlier this semester.

He addresses the often unaddressed post-colonial relationship between design and marginalized communities. His practice sheds light, opens up space and speculates on new futures for more inclusive design disciplines.

"We are incredibly grateful to Silas for sharing his expertise and generosity with us this semester," said Marty Maxwell Lane, director of the School of Art and associate professor of graphic design. "At a time when many feel hopeless, Silas has given students the space to have challenging conversations, reconsider the canon of graphic design and to feel empowered critiquing systems of oppression. He brings authenticity and joy to everything he does, and I have no doubt that the students will remember this experience for a very long time."

Munro is a founder of Polymode, a bi-coastal design studio that creates poetic and research-informed design with clients in the cultural sphere and community-based organizations including the MoMA, The Phillips Collection, The New Museum and Mark Bradford at the Venice Biennale.

He taught Black Data: A History of Systems of Oppression and Visibility within Data Visualization and Design, a design course that investigated deeper origin points in the history of data visualization and design studies, to School of Art students this spring. 

"It was important to our program to have someone of Silas' prominence contribute to our pedagogical perspectives, which merged well with our students' interest in understanding and utilizing graphic design to pitch in to challenging conversations," said Tom Hapgood, program director for graphic design. "For example, as a baseline for a contemporary graphic design student, you shouldn't make it through school without seeing W.E.B. Dubois' early 20th Century data visualizations – a true pioneer on so many levels. I've been hearing from the student show how much Silas was able to bring to the course, and how they've loved it and him."

Throughout the spring semester, students in Munro's class explored what it meant to revisit and rewrite the course of design history in a way that centers previously marginalized designers, cultural figures and, in particularly, BIPOC and QTPOC people.

"Silas allowed us to explore the history of diversity and representation through a design lens," said Vanessa Davis, a junior graphic design student. "This course completely changed my understanding of design systems and how they impact marginalized groups of people. Leaving this class I've learned to continue ask 'why,' as it is the key to understanding systems of oppression we see and experience every day."

Through lectures, readings, research and viewing archival material and contemporary data, the class shed light on moments of visibility and oppression. They selected historical data from the 17th-20th centuries and compared it with contemporary 21st century data, displaying their findings in a visual way.

In addition to the curriculum, Munro created an atmosphere of transparency, caring and community with the students.

"The first day of class Silas welcomed us in with a council that he holds where each student is able to share their thoughts," said Paige Fuhrman, a junior graphic design student. "Having this council brought everyone closer together, we recognized our similar situations and encouraged each other."

Munro holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from California Institute of the Arts and a Bachelors of Fine Arts from Rhode Island School of Design. His writing appears in Eye, Slanted; the Walker Reader and the book W. E. B. Du Bois's Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America. He has served as a critic at California Institute of the Arts, MICA and Yale. 

He is an assistant professor at Otis College of Art and Design and chair emeritus at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

About the McIlroy Family Visiting Professorship in the Visual and Performing Arts: The professorship, established in the university's Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, supports the teaching and work of professional artists who impart highly specialized knowledge essential to students' artistic, educational, and career enrichment and of value to the community at large. It was made possible through the philanthropy of Hayden and Mary Joe McIlroy and the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation.


Kayla Crenshaw, director of communications
School of Art


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