In her TED Talk, Williams described how her world came to be determined by someone else’s color palette. Outlining the history of racial segregation in Chicago, she shared maps with colorful, irregular, geometric parcels marking territories across the city—designating the neighborhoods where investments would and would not be concentrated. The spaces of her childhood, similar to the locations where Color(ed) Theory brightly dotted the landscape—were all zoned ‘red’ and deemed hazardous.
Writing on the many intertwined histories of racism that came to inform this contemporary geography, author Ta-Nehisi Coates underscored the “assiduous planning” behind Chicago’s racial segregation, from the Federal Housing Administration’s institution of maps for the direction of mortgage backing, to the echoing of these practices by the larger mortgage industry. These practices went hand-in-hand with broader institutionalized segregation, racial terror, white flight, and predatory lending practices, setting the stage for current disparities in home ownership.
Coates noted the dual sides of this history—a strong sense of belonging among neighbors that was nevertheless “premised on denying black people privileges enjoyed by white Americans.” These two sides of a coin are potently conveyed in Color(ed) Theory. Shared experiences and cultural memory are brightly foregrounded in the project's racialized palette. These same colorful symbols cast shadows and stains on the deeply embedded historical relationships of place, race, and inequity that continue today.
Emphasizing her continued interest in the meeting points of color, race, and space, Williams described her practice as “invested in constructing new potentials and narratives about personal identity and the connections of social and physical place.” In this vein, Color(ed) Theory, fits within a larger approach that “imagines artful ways to construct new narratives about zero-value landscapes that will allow them to shed an identify of victim and embrace instead the role of active protagonist.”
More recently, Williams is a founding member of the Black Reconstruction Collective, a group of 10 artists, architects, and designers who came together around an exhibition titled “Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America,” at the Museum of Modern Art. Now a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the organization offers funding, design, and thought leadership in service to dismantling white supremacy and amplifying “knowledge production and spatial practices by individuals and organizations that further the reconstruction project.” Asking, “How can Black people move through spaces in ways that are self-determined?” Williams noted the possibilities that such reflection opens up: “To empower architecture as a vehicle for liberation and joy.”