1998: Design Diary

“Bogolan Black Gold”

I want a design for these web pages that is influenced by historical African imagery. Why? Well, I find it the best way to pick up girls. Now, I cannot systematically detail how I ended up with the 1998 design. It was the usual chaotic creative process and there are a few remarks to make about it. Looking back on it, I should call this design “Bogolan Black Gold.”

The Logo and the Background Image. I wanted the logo to be gold. Let me be clear: I wanted the logo to look like a piece of real gold as much possible—limited only by my skill with Caligari trueSpace2. The idea was to take the roman serif letters making the words “kinté space” and cast them in African gold. I am not going to bore you with the history of how Europe’s native gold reserves were depleted and then replenished by African gold (as well as gold from the Americas). I will assume that you are educated and are already aware of this. Anyway, the point was to symbolize the coming together of Latin-based language (in this case English) with products of Africa.

I definitely wanted to have a black background—because most art-related web sites have black backgrounds. (Yes, I do look at other art web sites!) I wanted to communicate the feeling of a darkened theatre—to suggest the “space” in kinté space. But I did not want to use solid black straight away. I am told that too much blackness makes some people depressed. Unbelievable! What seems like a decent compromise to me, was to make the black background of the home page textured. This means that I would need a repeating background image.

I have seen plenty of web sites with cool background images. I am sure that at the beginning of 1998, I was really impressed by the daily-changing background at the then new Fractal Design/MetaCreations web site (metacreations.com). I liked the looks of backdrops like these but I wanted mine to please my eye and have meaning. Hey, here we go again: you know, this African “thing” of mine that keeps popping up in my head as much as Greek words and letters in any modern Occidental study of the sciences? I can only hope that you know where I am coming from. Most uninformed assumptions rot the meat.

I am not one of those page builders who came from the goatee-wearing Macintosh thousandaire establishment. I am aware that, as of this writing, bandwidth is still an issue. So I wanted a small repeating background image—that was African and had meaning. Suddenly I thought of patterns in African textiles. I bought a book on African textiles called The Art of African Textiles: Technology, Tradition and Lurex. I was immediately attracted to the Bogolan designs of Mali. In this book, essayist Pauline Duponchel writes:

Since the beginning of the 1980s a change in taste has taken place in the capital of Mali, which is more than just a question of fashion. Mud-dyed fabric has gradually become very important in fashion as well as in interior decoration, and the spectacular rise in its popularity originated in the fine arts. Yet up until then, these Bamana cloths had been despised, stigmatized by associations with rural garments and animist practices in contrast to the grand gowns worn in the city and Islam.

The “despised” part is interesting. These designs, originated by women working with the earth, have been despised by all—not just the easy target: the European Imperialist. Islamic folk, African urbanites and the Black elite all “despised” this style. All of this hate for the beautiful came to an end during this 1980s cultural revival. Because bogolan style is both economical and beautiful—and traditional, it quickly became very popular. I daresay its aesthetic influence rivals that of kente cloth.

The Horizontal Rule and the “Home Icon.” My web design called for two more elements. I wanted a horizontal rule that echoed the idea behind the logo and my interpretation of the bogolan style. Being quite aware that most commercial web sites use a top navigation bar, I preferred the footer icon: a single go-back-to-the-home-page button. I still suffer with the idea that web surfers must learn to scroll down browser windows. Life is hard!

The horizontal rule was used to divide the contents (divided into three sections: space people, space time and space visitors). It was used again on the pages that introduced content. Using it twice speeded up the loading time of these introductory pages. These introductory pages are necessary because I did not want to throw content at the visitor without explaining what they were about to see and who created what they were about to see.

One more detail about the horizontal rule is worth mentioning. There appears to be one golden sphere missing in the center of this golden ribbon. If you have noticed this detail, let me say that you are very caring and perceptive. The reason why I did this on purpose was to imitate a West African idea that perfection belongs to pure spirits—not us fallen humans. So I have made error for a purpose. This is me showing fear of God: that I would not even dare to suggest that I can create perfect symmetry or balance. By the way, I associate these ideas of error with improvisation in art—this is readily seen in Black music—but I digress.

The return to home icon at the bottom of almost all pages was the simplest navigation device I could conceive. It is a direct synthesis of the of the background and the logo. I want it to be a visual summary of all of design ideas: the color black, the gold, and my interpretation of the bogolan style. You have already seen this icon at the bottom of the introductory page. It is also used on the prose pages (like this one) where I am certain that extensive essays require a white background and black text.

I can only hope that all of the design elements form a system that is coherent to all of you, those viewing these pages. I want to keep the logo, background, icon and horizontal rule elements (and style sheets) as generic containers for different themes. For 1998, these “containers” were filled up with my interpretation of the bogolan style. What will they hold in the future?