Black Feminist Thought and Design for the Future: A Fall 2023 Course


Space Enabled

Doug Segars

Danielle Wood, Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences; Assistant Professor (Joint) of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Mondays, 2pm to 5pm
Media Lab (75 Amherst Street); Room E14-493
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Black Feminist Thought and Design for the Future

MAS.S62:  A Fall 2023 Class Open to All MIT, Harvard and Wellesley Students (Undergraduate and Graduate)
Mondays, 2pm to 5pm; 12 Units
Location: Media Lab, Room E14-493
Taught by Professor Danielle Wood

This class is part of a new series created by Professor Danielle Wood that uses reading, discussion and artistic practice to introduce undergraduate & graduate students to three concepts: 1) Critical theory, especially Black Feminist Thought, provides a tool to analyze the history of any field and find patterns of racism, misogyny and fear of queerness; these patterns are linked to capitalism and colonial thinking. 2) Contributions from scholars producing Black Feminist Thought provide a framework to design liberatory intervention within any field (such as engineering, science, art, design); 3) We can design Black Feminist prototypes that align with Intersectional Antiracism based on the students’ experience in their professional or academic field. The class also introduces students to a Design Thinking Framework called Systems Architecture which encourages students to consider societal challenges as part of complex systems with environment, social and economic aspects that must be considered. During class, the students are introduced to approximately six forms of artistic practice and are invited to reflect on examples of artists that use these forms. Student learn to adopt Black Feminist analytics and create prototypes of liberatory futures. Guest speakers from MIT and beyond that practice in these art forms are invited to speak about their work to the students. The forms of artistic practices highlighted in the class include the following:

●       Theatre

●       Poetry

●       Visual Art

●       Dance

●       Literature

●       Collaborative Multimedia Art

For each form of artistic expression, class participants watch videos or read examples from existing artists and discuss the methods used within the example artistic products to prototype liberatory futures. Building on the training and experience of the instructor, the course will emphasize theatre practice as one of the core examples. Specifically, the class will adopt the form of the Choreopoem, a spoken word piece set to visuals, music and movement, as a liberatory form.

A key component of the class is the Semester Project. Each student taking the class for credit will participate in one or more art or design projects.

●       Student Project. Students can choose to work individually or form groups for their student project work. Students select a topic for the student-led portion of the Semester Project that relates to their interests, academic training, professional identity, future goals and the Learning Objectives of the subject. Each project conceives and documents plans to create a “Prototype” via design or artistic practice that implements a Black Feminist analytic. Each prototype proposes future liberatory experiences and offers clues for the work needed to achieve such a future. The student-led project can draw from the type of artistic expression that the students find to best communicate their vision of a prototype. For example, students may select from practices in theatre, dance, music, poetry, visual art, video production, digital design, sculpture or other art forms to pursue their project. Depending on the complexity of the work, it may not be feasible to complete the realization of the project during the class. It is acceptable for students to either submit a design for their Prototype or the actual product they designed. If students successfully complete their student-led project, the Instructor will consider the work for potential inclusion in the exhibit and performance that results from this class. Note that public performance is not required as part of the grade for the class, but students are encouraged to continue the work with mentorship from the Instructor.

●       Instructor Led Project: In addition to completing a student-led design or project, each student will participate during the class meetings in design sessions for the Instructor-led project. The Instructor-led project will draw from artistic practice in the traditions of theatre, poetry, music and dance with the goal of composing a work that can be performed before an audience in the tradition of a Choreopoem. These artistic traditions are selected based on the background of the Instructor. The role of the students in the class will be to shape the themes, content, story, and visual concepts shared in the work in response to the topics discussed in class. During several class sessions, the Instructor will lead the participants through creative exercises to generate ideas for the Instructor-led project. These creative exercises may include movement activities, improvisational games, group brainstorming or other facilitated collaboration. During these sessions, the Instructors invite the class participants to reflect on the learning from the guest speakers, the readings and the examples of artistic practice presented in the class. With this input, the Instructors invite class participants to imagine and document themes, content, story, and visual concepts that could form the basis for a performance piece or Choreopoem drawing from theatre, poetry, dance and music. The performance will also aim to present Prototypes for a Liberatory Future expressing Black Feminist Analytics, including work from past versions of the class. At the end of the class, the Instructor envisions having a series of spoken word pieces created and recorded as visual poems coupled, as desired, with visuals and music. Students may choose to submit their visual poems to the Instructor to be considered for inclusion in a future live performance showcasing the student projects.

Learning Objectives

After taking this subject, students should be able to:

●       Articulate arguments, perspectives and context for the authors assigned in class on the topics of Black Feminist Thought, Queer Studies, Feminism, Antiracism and the role of Design and Art to influence the progression of culture

●       Discuss examples from the forms of artistic practice that draw from or illustrate Black Feminist analytics (methods for explaining the world) and prototypes (methods for designing a future world)

●       Conceive and design a project that draws from the students’ research, academic field or professional experience that creates a prototype for a liberatory vision of the future


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