Maggie Gray

Senior Lecturer Critical & Historical Studies, Kingston University

Maggie Gray

Decolonising ‘Modern’ Illustration Animation History Padlet

Dismantling the Single Story – (how) can we decolonise illustration history?


This paper tells our stories of an ongoing project to try to decolonise art & design history by unlearning the first year Critical & Historical Studies module ‘Image + Text: Communication Design History for Illustration and Animation’. This module focuses on the history of illustration and animation in Europe and North America from 1850 onwards ‘as a cultural response to modernity’. This Western/Euro-centric perspective, and the close links between modernity and colonialism, made it a relevant place to start trying to unpick how the existing history of illustration embedded in the university curriculum bears the legacies of colonialism and racism.

Inspired by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘The danger of a single story’ (2009) we looked at history as a kind of storytelling, examining how the story of illustration history has been put together, who is included and excluded, centred or marginalised, and what kinds of storytelling are valued. We questioned why illustration history has been framed the way it has, and how we might tell different stories, tell those stories differently, and see and situate ourselves within them.

Decolonising the university involves not just challenging what is taught but how it is taught, including how we interact as students and teachers. With this in mind we worked collaboratively to create a resource for decolonising Illustration Animation history. Supported by workshops run by storyteller and researcher Ravista Mehra in which she helped us question, dismantle and redefine terms like decolonization, diversity and history from our own personal understandings, we co-designed a brief to produce a Padlet collection of images responding to the keyword: modern. Enabling individual and group contributions, images by others or made ourselves, feedback, comments and mapping connections between responses, this presents illustration history as a dynamic, multi-dimensional web rather than a single, fixed thread.

This paper will present our experiences of this project, what we learned from it, and our understandings of its successes, failures, opportunities and limitations, from our individual perspectives and the feedback of others in the class.


Maggie Gray is a teacher and researcher in the history and theory of illustration and animation with a specialism in comics, cartooning, and visual narrative.