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NeoCon: Designing AfroFuturism: The Art of Storytelling in Costume Design


Headlining NeoCon 2024 are three global creative leaders who push the boundaries of their respective craft from entertainment to art to fashion. Their presentations will offer an exploration into storytelling through design. AIA Chicago is very pleased to be presenting one of these keynote speakers.

The world witnessed history, in 2019, as Ruth E. Carter became the first Black woman to win an Oscar for Costume Design. As she graced the Dolby stage in Los Angeles to a standing ovation, Ruth Carter affirmed her voice and devotion to retraining the eye to see beauty through costume design and the creation of Afrofuturism. Igniting a cultural renaissance, Carter’s decades long work in film proves that diversity in design and representation in story matters to audiences. In this keynote, one of the most sought-after costume designers on the globe, takes us on a journey, from concept to creation, to design the Afrofuture and shares how the art of storytelling translates in costume design and the building of worlds.

Ruth E. Carter is an American film costume designer best known for turning the Black Panther superhero into an African King. Carter makes history as the first Black person to win the Academy Award for Costume Design and earns Marvel Studios their first Oscar recognition. For Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Carter makes history, again, for her outstanding costume design work and becomes the first Black woman to win multiple Academy Awards in any category and the first costume designer to win for the first film and its sequel.

Carter pays tribute to the people of Africa through the costumes in Black Panther and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. She fuses traditional and contemporary while incorporating technology to deliver fashion and function, creating Afrofuturistic pieces that empower the female form, honor ancient cultures, and invoke a deep sense of representation unlike any other costumes experienced on screen. For Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Carter transforms the groundbreaking Afrofuturistic Wakandan looks from the first film and introduces new superheroes and the underwater world of the Talokan into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

She was tasked with creating hundreds of costumes and multiple builds for superhero characters steeped in symbolism and storytelling from two civilizations that battle on land, in air, and underwater. Carter elevates the characters from the first film by adding more brilliance and depth of emotion and culture to the costumes and creates new wearable art with breathtaking pieces that honor post classic Mesoamerican Maya culture for the Indigenous futuristic Talokan. Over three decades in film, television, and theater, Carter has earned seventy credits and collaborated with prolific directors, including Spike Lee, Steven Spielberg, Ava DuVernay, and Ryan Coogler. Carter’s costumes based on real and imaginative characters provide an arc to the narratives of African Americans from Do The Right ThingMalcolm X, What’s Love Got To Do With ItAmistadThe Butler, Marshall, Selma, Dolemite Is My NameComing 2 America to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Carter’s outstanding costume design work has been honored with Academy Award nominations for Malcolm X (1993) and Amistad (1998) and an Emmy nomination for the miniseries reboot of Roots (2016). The impact of her career in filmmaking has been recognized with the Costume Designers Guild’s Career Achievement Award (2019) and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2021). She is also a member of the board of governors for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Her costumes serve as an American treasure of history and culture and are on display in a traveling museum exhibition titled “Afrofuturism in Costume Design” and in her recent book “The Art of Ruth E. Carter” – a behind-the-scenes journey in creating the most iconic costumes in filmmaking.

Carter is beloved in her hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts and was given the key to the city for her achievements and service to the community (2021). She is a graduate of Hampton University, Virginia (HBCU) and most recently served as their commencement speaker and was given the distinction of honorary doctorate. She holds an additional honorary doctorate from Suffolk University, Massachusetts.

Introduction and Q&A by Sharon Samuels

Headshot of Sharon Samuels

Sharon M. Samuels, AIA, NOMA, IATSE, is a Chicago based Art Director, Architect, Designer and Artist.

In 2015, after an almost twenty-year stint practicing architecture, Sharon expanded her career to design for film and television. During her architecture career, Sharon worked on a variety of projects from single-family residential to multi-million-dollar mixed use projects mainly within the Chicago Metropolitan Area. Sharon has been recognized nationally for both her design work and her contributions to the architecture and design profession over the years.

To date, she has worked in a variety of roles within Art Departments on television shows and feature films. Like many architecture nerds, she started as a set designer drawing “way too much.” Sharon now works mainly as an Art Director, both in Chicago and nationwide. In 2017, she took a producing turn with the (very) short film “Inside the Box: The Story of Boxville” which was a finalist in the 2017 I Look Up Film Festival sponsored by the American Institute of Architects.

In 2023, Sharon established blprint359, a media company that will produce original content for screens (large and small) and print. She continues her work in the Architecture field as a consultant for Beehyyve Collective, a design, engineering and construction firm based in Chicago.


Wednesday | 06.12.2024


10:00 am - 11:00 am


THE MART, NeoCon Presentation Studio, Floor 2
222 West Merchandise Mart Plaza suite 250, Chicago, IL, USA



Learning Unit:

1.0 LU

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