Black History Month – Jahnavi Inniss

Jahnavi Inniss graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2020 with a BA Graphic Communication Design, and her final project was a quilt! ‘Black British History Quilt’ was made to challenge existing ideas about the presence of Black people in British History. The quilt is made up of bold colourful blocks that have been appliquéd with the names of prominent Black Britons from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Javhani Inniss with ‘Black British History Quilt’

When describing her own process, Jahnavi said:

Using Stuart Hall’s theory of representation and Roland Barthes’ semiotic theory, I undertook an in-depth investigation into the different methods of creating visibility and representation for Black-British history. […] Black people made a significant contribution to British society; however, these contributions have been left unrecognised. While completing extensive research into the different ways to showcase Black-British history, I noticed frequent silent gaps in the timeline. In this project, I’ve adapted the cultural technique of quilting to give visibility to the many unrecognised Black people that contributed to British society during the 17th and 19th centuries. I aim to dismantle the “single story” which suggests that Black people only arrived in Britain after World War II in the 1950s during the Windrush period. I also want to dismantle the idea that Black people in Britain during the 17th and 19th centuries were only of a subservient status. (1)

Jahnavi developing ‘Black British History Quilt’

The people named in ‘Black British History Quilt’ lived wide and varied lives. They were abolitionists, artists, poets, performers, athletes and celebrities in their own lifetimes. Jahnavi created an accompanying website so that people could learn more about the people named in the quilt. The edges of the quilt were also left deliberately unfinished in order to demonstrate that the work of recognising and celebrating Black British history needs to be continued.(2)

Jahnavi has already gained a significant amount of recognition for her work. For ‘Black British History Quilt’ she was awarded the Nova Unilever #Unstereotype Award, the CSM Deans Collection Award, and a place on the i-D X ARTSTHREAD Global Graduate Competition Shortlist. We’re really excited to see what she gets up to now that she has graduated!

If you would like to visit Jahnavi’s website and learn more about the people in ‘Black British History Quilt’, please click here.

If you would like to learn more about Black British history and race in the UK, we recommend the following books:
David Olusoga – Black and British: a forgotten history (Also available in a Young Adult edition)
Reni Eddo-Lodge – Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race
Angela Osborne and Patrick Vernon – 100 Great Black Britons


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