De Stijl* of W.E.B.Dubois

*the style in Dutch, also the name of an art movement, roughly from 1917-1937. Mondrian is its most famous representative.

There is the sign of the times, a visual aesthetic that is unmistakably patterned after the long reach of modernist design. From Bauhaus to De Stijl to Constructivism, the western world post WWI had  revisited their own the middle ages but also voyaged far afield as imperialists, distilling the geometric lines of primitive african art while interrogating the process of fine asian craftsmanship as a foil to the industrial revolution. The Handmade, the clear unadorned lines, the bold colours and the refusal of the bourgeois ideal of adornement or over embellishment.

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I have always wanted more examples in the way of the modernist gardens:the use of simple rectilinear and planar forms, clean lines, pure use of colour. Roberto Burle Marx is one of the most celebrated.

I can only imagine such gardens for the most part on paper or in textile. I can see the glass work of Joseph Albers or the textile work of Anni and imagine what might have been, had Bauhaus counted not only ateliers or workshops in architecture, sculpture, woodworking, theatre, photography or graphic design, textile arts…but also garden design.

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Imagining a modernist gardens involves spending a lot of time with paper artefacts of the period. Noticing, observing, inventoryiing and sometimes sketching their peculiarities. And coming across some curious little tidbits like these infographics, literal or graphic testimony to the signs of the times.

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Handdrawn, bold geometric lines, these images offer unmistakable contrasting colours, reminiscient of the modernist styles we come to associate with architects Wright or Mies, designers like Le Corbusier or artists Mondrian or the Albers.

But here is the real kicker: writer, historian, theologian-philosopher, sociologist and black activist founder of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People), WEB duBOIS is the author of these documents.

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Du Bois created over 60 graphs like these.  The graphs, recently digitized by the Library of Congress, originally went on display as part of the “Exhibit of American Negroes” at Paris’s Exposition Universelle in 1900. While they chronologically predate the art movements mentioned above, one can not help but read into Dubois series of sketches, an echo of what was already brewing.

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