Focused studies in Environmental Studies and Gender, Sexuality + Race helped Ali Blake 14 TX see her work in textiles—and the world around her—through a different lens.
With her sights set on teaching art in a community setting, recent graduate Ali Blake 14 TX says that her History, Philosophy + the Social Sciences (HPSS) concentration helped her begin to imagine herself as a teacher. “I really enjoyed going beyond the liberal arts requirements and finding ways to think about the context of the work I was doing in studio,” she explains. “And learning about the social dynamics at play in the world around me will help when I’m teaching in the community.”
Pursuing two HPSS tracks simultaneously—Environmental Studies and Gender, Sexuality + Race —Blake took classes focused on the social aspects of environmental studies, looking at how the environment is governed and how different populations experience the world. “For example,” she says, “people working on large factory farms are exposed to chemicals on a daily basis. They’ve got first-hand experience of how we’re changing the environment.” At the same time, the knowledge she gained via the Gender, Sexuality + Race track offered an interesting lens through which to view environmental issues. “It helped me to see where race and class come in,” she says, “and who sees the worst effects of environmental distress.”
Blake found it easier to talk about these issues outside of her Textiles studios, where the focus is on aesthetics, creativity and technique—preparing students to work in the industry rather than address social problems. But her textiles came together with her own unique take on the larger world as she was working on her senior thesis project.
“My thesis looked at how I use clothing as both armor and a means of presenting myself to the world,” says Blake. “What does clothing mean in a woman’s day-to-day life? Where do we draw the line between concealing and revealing our bodies?”
This line of thought first grabbed her attention during a Psychology of Gender class with HPSS Assistant Professor Jennifer Prewitt-Freilino that references the subtleties of clothing and presentation. “I was able to connect the work I was doing in other courses back to the research I did in Jennifer’s class and keep building on the conclusions I’d drawn,” she says.
Blake has become intensely aware of how people outside of the apparel mainstream—people with body types and sizes that fall outside of industry ideals or those on a limited budget, for example— are negatively affected by the clothing industry. “I would love to create a community space where people can make affordable, unconventional clothing for themselves,” she says.
While she’s formulating her long-term plans, Blake is also contemplating pursuing a Master of Arts in Teaching degree at RISD. She has already been accepted into the program offered through Teaching + Learning in Art + Design but has decided to defer for a year while she figures things out.
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