Sebastian Ebarb ’06 Speaks on Black and Native American Liberation Through Design During Black History Month

4 min read

Annika Dyczkowski ’25

Features Editor

Sebastian Ebarb is a Trinity graduate, member of the mixed Choctaw-Apache tribe, and Associate Professor at Northeastern University. Last week, he held a lecture titled, “The Design of Black and Native Liberation,” which focused on Black and Indigenous organizations and their creative design in the past, present, and future. He discussed images and symbols that seek liberation in the color of their graphics, power animals, and heroes, which are a “catalyst to connect people with history they otherwise feel disconnected from.” 

The structure of his lecture followed the graphic history of Native and Black organizations, the rhetoric of minimalism in protest design, and ended with a discussion of a path for the future. He opened his talk with a history of the Black Panthers and the organization’s past of design in protest, including the Power Fist and its variations in design, attributed as “probably the most famous graphic when we talk about political movements, especially in the 60s and 70s.” The symbol of global solidarity was used by both Black and Native organizations, “these organizations chose to use these images and knew the other was using these images and decided this was to the benefit of both parties.”

The middle of his lecture focused on the discourse of minimalism in protest signs. He first referenced the well-known Black Lives Matter sign, used in the protest of injustice against Black Americans. Ebarb expresses that this extreme simplicity in social justice design is more for white communities to understand the message and can be harmful to the party’s cause: “When does clarity get in the way of representation?” In response to this concern, he offers signs of protest that are more specific to people living in those areas. “There’s nothing wrong with having signs that are for white folks to understand the message, but we are also creating messages for ourselves and for our individual communities.” He acknowledges the importance of cultural differences across the country by suggesting that the current design framework (such as the Black Lives Matter sign) can “find a way to incorporate symbolism in connection to each of the communities that it should represent.” He offers an example of a LandBack protest sign on Navajo land, affirming that it should relate back to the Navajo nation through Navajo power animals or symbols rather than the broad Indigenous movement. “It’s about building a design system within these individual movements in order to make it more personal and more connective for people.”

One of Ebarb’s biggest projects, he says, is his restoration of a sign at Pipestone National Monument, a sacred site for many American Indian tribes. He aided in the sign remodeling with 23 other tribes. The sign initially displayed offensive imagery: “We made it more accurate to what the site actually did.” In addition to the sign at Pipestone, one of Ebarb’s current projects involves the city seal of Natick, MA. The seal depicts offensive and racist imagery, and he is in the process of rebranding the seal in conjunction with the people and government of Natick. 

To those interested in learning more, Ebarb suggests reading about the history of Black and Native liberation through design. Suggested readings include: An Afro-Indigenous History of the United States by Kyle T. Mays and Decolonizing Design by Elizabeth Tunstall. He also recommended some design artists to keep up with on Instagram and their personal websites, those being Paige Pettibon, Brit Reed, and Bobby Joe Smith III. Ebarb is also the founder and owner of Nahimade, a business that aids in brand development for nonprofits and small businesses through design. Ebarb utilizes creative designs to seek liberation for Black and Indigenous communities: “for us, for our homes, for our representation.”

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