We had the good fortune of connecting with Kaleena Sales and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kaleena, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Risk taking means making myself vulnerable. As an author, I write about my intersectionality of being Black and a woman; specifically as it relates to my work as a designer and an educator in an industry that is largely White, and historically underrepresented in minority voices and experiences. In sharing my experiences about teaching at an HBCU (Historically Black College and University) and challenging the industry to expand its view on what defines “good” design, I undoubtedly open myself up to criticism and opposing views. As intimidating as it can be to reveal uncomfortable truths, I find that when I’m honest and open about the challenges of navigating as a minority, most people respond with open hearts and minds, allowing ideological bridges to be built, and authentic relationships to flourish.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My art practice focuses on urban culture and aesthetics, specifically centering on the implications of identity on the aesthetic preferences of Black designers. (I consider myself a design writer, practitioner, and illustrator with a specific focus on Black culture.) As a steering committee member for AIGA DEC (Design Educators Community), I launched the Beyond the Bauhaus series to highlight underrepresented social and cultural groups whose work has not been influenced by Bauhaus or Modernist methods. The idea is to help design educators have resources that challenge Eurocentrism, and reframe our understanding of “good” design. I’m also co-author of the upcoming book, Extra Bold: A Feminist, Inclusive, Anti-Racist, Non-Binary Field Guide for Graphic Designers alongside Ellen Lupton and 6 other diverse designers. In this book, I write about Anti-Racism, Equality vs Equity, Systemic Racism, and Teaching Black Designers. Through teaching at an HBCU, I’ve witnessed first hand the many ways that my students (mostly Black and from urban areas) struggle to design for mainstream audiences. My students have directly impacted my work, as I seek to disrupt age-old practices that exclude their voices and experiences.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
While I live and work in Nashville, TN where good food and music take center stage, I would take my guest away from the typical visitor hotspots to historic North Nashville where they can take in the murals and culture of Jefferson Street. This street leads directly to Tennessee State University, the HBCU where I teach, and has decades of meaning to the Black community. I’d point out Fisk University and Meharry Medical College, two other HBCU’s along the path, and I’d show them Citizens Bank, one of the nation’s oldest Black-owned banks. I’d share the areas of the city that hold meaning to the community, and make sure they had fish sandwich from Ed’s Fish before leaving town.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Kelly Walters (Assistant Professor of Communication Design, Parsons School of Design) Kelly’s research into Black cultural vernacular, and her leadership within the AIGA Design Educators Steering Committee has served as a consistent source of inspiration for me. I consider her a mentor and friend.