Voyage of the Sable Venus

Imani Day

In October of 2016, the Department of African American Poetry and Poetics at the University of Pittsburgh invited three designers of color to create architectural, analytic translations of a book of poetry. The feature poem, entitled Voyage of the Sable Venus, examines the depiction of the black female figure as shown in art history through the titles of artworks from ancient times to the present. Juxtaposing autobiography with historical constructs of racial identity allows the author to envision new horizons for the image of the black woman, both in society and art culture. This conceptual project seeks to do the same.  

The original Voyage of the Sable Venus is a twisted depiction of the Middle Passage, in which a  full-figured black woman gracefully sails across the mid-Atlantic, comfortably supported by a shell. The poet, Robin Coste Lewis, collected these titles as a testament to the complexity of race, confronting its pleasures and horrors. The space created is a theoretical safe haven for the historically disenfranchised to recount and protect their histories and truths.  

The name “Parallel Poetics” comes from the use of similar rules to create poetic and architectural concepts and the power of cross-pollination between the two creative industries. Through a series of two- and three-dimensional sketches, different concepts from Voyage were visualized as physical spaces. The lower foundational structure is meant to serve as a symbolic anchor, filled with memories and shared information to be used as a launchpad for continued support and empowerment. Reflecting on misrepresentations of the histories and image of the black woman is a first step toward reclaiming an identity of strength. Moving forward feeling a sense of safety, under a protective structural expression, women can redefine their image and strategize for how to move forward as an informed unit.

Imani Day is a designer with Gensler and an adjunct professor of design at the University of Detroit Mercy. She is also an editorial fellow with the Avery Review. Passionate about educational spaces and cultural work, Day moved to Detroit in 2015 to focus on community-oriented design projects.