Can Surface Design act as a tool for social commentary?

Racism and Colourism

Classroom Project
B.Des 2018
Textile Design

student portfolio︎︎︎

This politically themed print, a result of the frustrations and anger at hate crimes during the pandemic, revolves around issues of Racism and Colourism. Conversations about systemic racism are largely occurring on Social Media, but are inaccessible to a majority of people. Textiles surround us at all times and are a suitable medium to take this conversation to a larger audience.

I based this print on the sociological concept of 'Us' vs 'Them', and how problems arise when one or more group(s) feel superior to the other. I cross-checked the print with activists and social workers to make sure that my intentions were well received. I quickly realised that good intentions do not necessarily translate into good deeds. I carefully questioned the usage of every motif, line and pattern to make sure that I was being respectful in my representation. Yet, I received feedback that my design elements might be insensitive or inappropriate. It was then that I realised that I should have involved more people during the process, and not after. I learned that processes and methodologies need to be adapted for each project. I also wonder if my print could have been made to speak more discreetly and subtly, as opposed to the obvious choice of elements used presently.

Being a designer, I realised that I am not a 'saviour' and that my work must be based on what ‘they need' and not on what 'I want’ by constantly asking myself, 'Who is it for?' and 'What purpose is it serving?'. Empathy and openness to constructive criticism are very important, especially when tackling sensitive issues.

Through a series of political prints, I plan to cover multiple topics like economic and gender inequality, religious conflict, suppression of the LGBTQ+ community, etc. I would eventually like to convert them into apparel.

This project made me realise what I want to use my platform for and how. I am curious to see how my values/beliefs translate into inquiries.


  • News on the murder of George Floyd and stories of hate crime victims.
  • The Instagram page of ‘Brown History’ showing the grim realities of the British Raj in India, their global impact on slavery, and how their rhetoric is represented in advertisements and mass media to date.
  • Readings on hip hop culture, the use of graffiti and street art in protests and mass mobilisation.