Diversity and Inclusion in Balloon Designs and Prints

What should have been one of the most exciting moments of my life, turned out to be conflicting emotions and feelings.

I’m excited because for the first time ever I submitted my entry to compete at a world renowned balloon convention. It’s all set, I’m going all in with designs that represent my historical culture and me, my brown self. 

I researched some historical african traditions and found the perfect design I wanted to represent as one of my competition pieces and set out to create them with balloons. 

I also wanted to create a competition piece that looks like me. You know the big curly kinky hair, brown skin and the attitude of self confidence. Yep, you guessed it! My beautiful brown me. 

The day of the competition, I was surprisingly relaxed because I just wanted to build something different just to represent my culture. I didn’t care if I won or not it was about trying something new and different for me. 

During the builds of my african entry in particular, the vibe was overwhelming from my so many people of my race. The vibe was a lot different from a few other races who seemed to avoid looking at it as if I was setting up a voodoo ceremony. I was even told by another African American that I wasn’t going to win because I created black art, REALLY! Don’t get me wrong, I did get some really positive comments that cheer me on, but very few and with with very little education of what I was representing! I guess it didn’t matter to read the description posted. For me, it felt as if I was being condemned for having the nerve to be so audacious enough and create and represent my black culture in my balloon designs. I’ll just leave that here for now, but I explain my african designed inspiration later in the blog. 

Jumping to the Kinky hair competition. Black women and men have been embracing their natural hair and I showcased it through balloon art. My kinky curly hair design on the other hand was well received. What was so distinctive in both designs that one was well received and the other was not? They were both representing me and my culture. 

My Kinky Curly hair design won 2nd place. It was a proud moment for me and for what that design represented to those of color that attended that convention.

I overheard someone state that somehow I won because it’s political? Did I win because It was political or did I win fair and square? I was certainly not the first African American that competed at this convention, perhaps the first African American Female to win in that particular category! It seemed as if it turned out to be some kind of “Affirmative Action” Situation and not of my own merit!  

The Balloon Industry has a large African American ethnic group with balloon businesses, but why is there a lack of African American Balloon Prints and Shapes? Why is it very little African-American balloon designs to cater to this ethnic culture?

“In 2020, the Coronavirus hit the world hard. Businesses closed down, people were working from home more than ever before. During the pandemic, there was no socializing and all we relied on is social media. Social media has brought social injustice, police brutality and systematic racism awareness to the forefront. Now more than ever we are witnessing and seeing more organizations and manufacturers that are revisiting their policies and procedures to include items of systematic racism and social injustice. 

The internet and social media can indeed be a good avenue for promoting social justice, and learning black culture if there is no access to a library or history books. It is through the truthful posts that the African-American culture can reap the following benefits:

  1.  Uplifting voices of those who are considered as part of the “minority group”
  2. Creating awareness among distinct races and cultures around the globe
  3. Building and strengthening relationships in organizations and neighborhoods
  4. Demanding justice
  5. Coordinating community responses
  6. Platforming lived experiences
  7. Promoting and planning relevant African-American events
    8. Boosting the morale of various races and cultures

Aside from posting and sharing, other social media strategies may also be done in order to achieve social equality, and these include fundraising, partnering with influences, promoting events with a cause, and conducting online studies and spreading about them.

Back to my African competition entry and my inspiration. Let’s talk about the Ghana Ashanti Dolls or known as Akua’ba. Akua’ba are wooden ritual fertility dolls from Ghana and nearby areas. The best known akua’ba are those of the Ashanti people, whose akua’ba have large, disc-like heads. African dolls across the continent are created for young girls to play with and as a charm to ensure fertility in women. Their shape and costume vary according to region and custom. Frequently dolls are handed down from mother to daughter. Western dolls are popular in Africa and are often dressed with traditional garb. What seems to be Voodoo about this piece? Nothing!

When the doll concept is considered in the context of African culture, they are usually not children’s playthings, but rather objects that are laden with ritual and religious associations within the community. African dolls are used to teach, and entertain. They are supernatural intermediaries and they are manipulated for ritual purposes. Each of these dolls is unique because they are handmade and are traditionally handed down through generations.

The treatment of the Akua’ba has been described as an example of traditional beliefs that corresponds to the occult belief of sympathetic magic.

Three akua’ba. The middle is from the Fante, while the other two are from the Ashanti.

Nozedar, Adele, author. The illustrated signs & symbols sourcebook Beck, R. (1989). Bibles and Beads: Missionaries as Traders in Southern Africa in the Early Nineteenth Century. The Journal of African History, 30(2), 211-225. doi:10.1017/S0021853700024105 Accessed 22 April 2018

The Ashanti people live in central Ghana in the Rain forests of West Africa approximately 150 miles away from the coast. The Ashanti are a major ethnic group of the Akans (Ashanti and Fanti) in Ghana, Ghana is a fairly new nation, barely more than 50 years old, and Ghana was previously called the Gold Coast.

My balloon art showcased the Ashanti Doll along with custom made balloons with Kente cloth. Despite the uneducated whispers, It’s not Voodoo!

Caption: African American Balloon Decorations with African Prints and Ghana Ashanti doll

Kente cloth originated with the Ashanti people of Ghana. It dates back 375 years, conceived in a village called Bonwire. … Upon returning home, they made the first cloth out of black and white fibers from a raffia tree. To this day, Bonwire is still the most famous center for kente cloth weaving. 

 What does kente cloth represent?

The cloth symbolizes high in value. Ahwepan refers to a simple design of warp stripes, created using plain weave and a single pair of heddles. The designs and motifs in kente cloth are traditionally abstract, but some weavers also include words, numbers and symbols in their work.

 Why is kente cloth so special?

Originally, the use of kente was reserved for Asante royalty and limited to special social and sacred functions. Even as production has increased and kente has become more accessible to those outside the royal court, it continues to be associated with wealth, high social status, and cultural sophistication.

~Wikipedia

 Kwanzaa is less than 50 years old.

Maulana Karenga, a black nationalist who later became a college professor, created Kwanzaa as a way of uniting and empowering the African-African community in the aftermath of the deadly Watts riots. Having modeled his holiday on traditional African harvest festivals, he took the name “Kwanzaa” from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits.” The extra “a” was added, Karenga has said, simply to accommodate seven children at the first-ever Kwanzaa celebration in 1966, each of whom wanted to represent a letter.

Is Kwanzaa religious?

Though often thought of as an alternative to Christmas, many people actually celebrate both. “Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, but a cultural one with an inherent spiritual quality,” Karenga writes

https://www.history.com/news/5-things-you-may-not-know-about-kwanzaa

Caption: Festive balloon decoration fitting for Kwanzaa, African American Holiday, or Black Holiday

 African-American Culture in the Balloon Industry

With all the modern world’s efforts to enforce equality in the world now more than ever after being awakened to George Floyd’s unfortunate experience, it is indeed high time for the balloon industry to step up in the game.

 There are literally no African-American printed holiday balloons, like Black History Month, Kwanzaa, African textile prints or shaped balloons for the Kwanzaa symbol. Most African American’s traditionally celebrate Christmas, yet, there are not black Santa Clauses or black elves or even black angel balloons.

African-American culture is barely recognized in any form of balloons. Wouldn’t it be nice to celebrate a baby shower with a brown-colored baby shaped as a balloon, for a change? Or, wouldn’t it be so cool to celebrate the International Women’s Day / Month with a balloon-designed female image centerpiece that has Afro hair? 

The balloon business does have the brown tone balloons to work with; however, one can surprisingly and easily pull up balloons that are specifically printed to celebrate the culture of Asians, Jewish, Mexicans, Italians, and of course Caucasians across the globe. Cultural representation through balloons should not be merely about forming flags with colored balloons. Of course, it would also make sense to make unique prints available to celebrate national festivals and other traditional events across the globe.

I’ve been in the balloon industry for 15 years and have always had to create my own ethnicity because there are no balloons that represent me or look like me outside of the brown latex balloon faces. Thank goodness for that small gesture.

 Fingers crossed, the balloon industry continues to educate themselves with efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in balloon designs and prints.  

If you want to learn more about how Top Notch Balloon Creations can turn your special events more inclusive, diverse, and unique, feel free to get in touch with us. We are dedicated to providing our clients with balloon art and decoration services that are perfect for any occasion, audience and/or culture.

Caption: Heavenly sent Baby Shower-themed Centerpieces featuring a brown baby

Caption: Flaunting African American Hair through Afro Hair Balloons / Black and Brown organic balloons / Black girl magic balloons

Julie Cylla – Certified Balloon Artist & Award Winning Balloon Decorator at Top Notch Balloon Creations 

1-800-873-9651

Topnotchballooncreations.com

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