Cherry-Ann Davis

What happens when a Trini woman ends up in the largest city in Switzerland to learn design? You have Cherry-Ann Davis, a graduate design student at Zurich University of the Arts, and a self-proclaimed creator of visuals and words. Quite a combination, right?

Cherry-Ann and I talk about her design thesis, as well as her work at a feminist design publication called The Futuress. Cherry-Ann also spoke on growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, how she switched her career from marketing to design, and spoke on finding community in an entirely new place. According to Cherry-Ann, you should stay open to anything because you’ll never know where it will take you. I can’t argue with that!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
I am Cherry-Ann Davis and I am currently a master’s student at Zurich University of the Arts studying visual communication design.

Maurice Cherry:
And Zurich, that’s Zurich as in Switzerland, correct?

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Yes. Zurich as in Switzerland. I left my good hot island in the Caribbean to Zurich, another part of the world that I’ve not been before. Well, first of all, I never left my country for longer than a week before moving to Switzerland.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. And you’ve been there… I think you told me earlier, you’ve been there since February of last year.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Yes. February 1st, 2020, I moved, I packed my four suitcases. It’s everything that I won and I hold dear in my life, and I brought with me. So many books. And I came by myself into a new world.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s it been adjusting to everything?

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Well, one months after arriving, there was a global lockdown. So that adjustment period was quite hard because I didn’t know anybody. The one person that I knew, he kind of dropped me as soon as I got to Switzerland. So I was in a pandemic by myself, not knowing anyone in a flat with two other people upstairs.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And the people who were on my floor left, they went back to their countries to spend quarantine with their families, to spend that time. And I was just there by myself. Being new to school, not even having time to meet my classmates and get to know them. It was rough. It was real hard.

Maurice Cherry:
My goodness. I can only imagine. How did you get through that? Well, I mean, I guess you’re kind of still getting through it, right?

Cherry-Ann Davis:
I am still getting through it. Enough prayers. I prayed a lot and I spoke to my therapist a lot, because as much as I was prepared mentally to move to another country, I was not prepared mentally to move to another country and be in so much isolation. Although I lived on my own when I was back in Trinidad, it was something that I could not comprehend.

Maurice Cherry:
As we’re recording this, so for people that know, we’re recording this right before Memorial day, so right near the end of May. What’s the situation like in Zurich or in Switzerland, I guess, as it relates to reopening or anything?

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Right now, next Monday, all of the restaurants will be reopening to have both inside and outside guests. So for the last two weeks, they were just having people, they could dine on the patios or outside of your restaurants. But from this Monday, all the restaurants will be opened for both seating inside and outside. That is mainly because there’s a big drive to get people vaccinated.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
I had my last shots yesterday and I’m scared as fuck because I’m thinking about all of the history with vaccination and being Black, and I’m in a predominantly White country. So my fear is just going off the radar right now. But Zurich is one of the cities that has opened up vaccination for all persons no matter your age group or your risk right now. So with that, they are trying to open more and more. Relaxing measures more and more. Sorry.

Maurice Cherry:
Which vaccine did you get?

Cherry-Ann Davis:
I am not sure. I think it’s Moderna, but it might be AstraZeneca. I can’t remember. I was so nervous when they were telling me, I kind of blanked out.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I mean, but it was one you had to get two shots for?

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So it was probably Moderna. I think actually those might be the only two shots that are available globally. I don’t know if Pfizer is or not. I’m not sure.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
I think when talking to some of my friends yesterday, Pfizer was available in a different part of Switzerland. So Switzerland is actually… Well, Zurich is actually larger than my country. So at different parts of Zurich, you could get a different vaccine. So I’m just like, wow, that’s weird.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean all these news, and I’ve mentioned this on the show before. So for folks listening, I’m not trying to belabor the point, but I mean, all of the news around this has just been changing week after week, whether it’s availability, or restrictions and things opening up. There’s been such a rush back here in America, in the U.S. for things to reopen that it’s kind of staggering.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, it was so interesting because I remember this time last year, there was so much about making sure people wash their hands for 20 seconds and wore a mask. And now that it’s masks off, I mean, everywhere, people are just… It’s going to be a wild summer in the United States because people are ready to get out.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Right now I get scared when I’m on the tram when I see someone not wearing a mask, I’m like, “Yo, so what are you doing? This is Corona.” And for me, it’s kind of baffling because back home in Trinidad, right now there’s a state of emergency. You can’t go anywhere between 9:00 and 6:00. And if you are going anyway outside of those hours, you have to have a good reason as well to be outdoors.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
You can’t exercise outdoors. I feel it for the people back home. And here I am having the opportunity to get a vaccine even because back home, they ran out of vaccines, and I am here with so much privilege and this man not wearing his mask, like what are you doing?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I know some Europeans that came, they flew over here last month to get the vaccine because the country that they were in, it didn’t seem that it was going to be available or they didn’t really have a sense of when the vaccines would be available. So they just flew over here, got it, and that was it.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Well, that’s an ability that very few have, that access to even leave your own country to get a vaccine. People don’t realize that privilege. I have friends in Berlin and they can’t even get the vaccine.

Maurice Cherry:
I think now it appears that vaccines are starting to get out to more countries from the U.S. because right now we’re at this point where supply is greatly outpacing demand. And partly that’s because prior to, I want to say maybe a couple of weeks ago, you really had to go to mass vaccination sites or maybe get them through your doctor or something, but now you can get them at pretty much any pharmacy. You can get it at-

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Really?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. The availability has increased a lot. But even with that, some people, because it’s a… If they do a two shot like Pfizer or Moderna, they’re only getting the first shot and not the second one because people are talking about side effects and everything.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
That was one of the things that was happening in Trinidad. So before I think they ran out of the vaccines, a few people who are in the high-risk area, they were able to get the flu shot, and then they ran out of vaccine. So it was like, what’s going to happen now that they need to get a second shot. Do they know after wait to get the same brand of shots or would they get a second shot from another brand of medication? So it’s questions, just big question marks in Trinidad.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, let’s shift the conversation away from vaccines and all that sort of stuff. Talk to me about what you’re studying. You said you’re at the Zurich Institute for the Arts. Is that what it was?

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Zurich University of the Arts.

Maurice Cherry:
Zurich University of the Arts. Thank you.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Yes. I am doing visual communication design. I came with the intention of doing a project around pattern design on Trinidad and Tobago. Because I had so much time during Corona and I have to have a thesis to go along with my artifacts, I was able to think a little bit deeper into what I want my project to be, because I initially, I was just thinking about the diversity and the culture of Trinidad and Tobago being represented in some type of pattern design for fabric or wallpaper.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
I told my interviewers when I was applying for the school, that will love to see a line of IKEA wallpapers that just shows the brilliance and vibrance of Trinidad and Tobago through pattern design, and he said, “Yes. We have partners in IKEA.” And I said, yes, that’s what I want my project to be.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And during lockdown, I had way too much time on my hands, and I got to thinking, what does a pattern design actually say? And how does it benefit the design industry? And what would my thesis say? And what am I adding to the conversation? So it changed. It pivoted from being pattern design of Trinidad and Tobago as a thesis on the artifact, to the thesis now looking at how can designers who are not part of the Western world utilize their own culture to create inspiration for designs.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a really rich subject to go into.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Yeah. For me, it’s something that I wanted when I was doing corporate design because I worked at a bank that was throughout the Caribbean. So we were operating in 17 islands at the time, and I was responsible for all of the visuals. So all of the marketing campaigns. I was responsible for creating the ads whether it was digital, or print, or even TV ads, I would be the person who would give approval along with my colleagues in Canada.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And a lot of times, my colleagues in Canada, I remember this one meeting, it was for a Christmas campaign, and they proposed an idea and I was the one reviewing it and providing the Caribbean context. And they were like, “Well, we’re not sure if you all have hardwood floors and you all use Christmas trees.”

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And I’m like, “What do you mean if we have hardwood floors? Where do you think we live? On the beach and swinging from tree to tree? We have hardwood floors. We have tiled floors. We have [inaudible 00:15:42] just like everybody else.” And I basically had to let them know, hey, as much as you think that your view of things are better and your ideas are wrong, design, or even life, maybe more rich because of your position in Western world, we still have access to all of these things too.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Just do a simple Google search, and you’ll see how rich our countries are. And from that is where a seed was planted. Because so many times us as designers who don’t belong to the Western world, we still have to conform to a lot of the Western canon on how to design, on how we should market our products to people. And we most of the times don’t consider our audience, which is the people that we’re advertising to. They are also rich with diversity that we should reflect in our ads as well. So that was where the idea was based in.

Maurice Cherry:
I think that’s a marvelous idea. And it’s something that at least I know here in the States, there’s been a lot of talk around decolonizing design, which is sort of trying to free people’s mindsets away from honestly, from a Eurocentric vision of design like Swiss design, or German design, or French design, or whatever, by trying to free yourself from that and learn about designers from other cultures or even designers from different races so you can sort of add to your own design, knowledge, and research, and inspiration to create bigger and better things.

Maurice Cherry:
There was a couple of weeks ago we had Kaleena Sales, who teaches at Tennessee State University. And one of the focuses that she has for her work when she’s talking to her students and teaching her students is having them plum their own culture to put it into their work because she teaches at a historically Black college. Her students are Black. She’s Black. So that’s where you should be pulling from for your design, instead of trying to mimic, I don’t know, the Bauhaus or whatever.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Yes. For me, I actually strengthened my idea in the BIPOC Design History course that was run by Polymode. So Silas Monroe and some other lecturers came together and they presented what a canon would look like if African-Americans were included in it. And for me, that opened my eyes to think, so why didn’t I learn about my own design history in school? I remember my design teacher always mentioning to us that good design is very clean and very Scandinavian or Swiss.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And I’m like, but we have kind of more. We have so much color, and richness, and diversity. Why can’t I include that into my own designs? And for me, my thesis is more about showing designers that it can happen because I’m utilizing my own country, so Trinidad and Tobago, and our rich diversity, and history, and culture, and language in my artifact. So it’s more leaning towards a case study of how you can do it.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
So it’s not just the theory around decolonization and postcoloniality. It is there, but it is centered in, this is what it is. This is how we do it. So many times when people do master’s and PhDs, it’s so academic level that a practitioner can’t understand what’s happening. And I want me, as a 22 year old designer, or aspiring designer to be able to say, I understand what she’s saying. I could do that. Now let me implement it in my own design processes.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a really smart way to think about it. And you’re right. I mean, I know when I think about Trinidad and Tobago, because I went to college here in Atlanta, but we had a ton of Caribbean students, mostly from Trinidad and Tobago. And even just talking with them and hearing them talk about home, and the richness of their culture, and the food, and the music, and everything, why wouldn’t you want to infuse that into your design because that’s what you get inspired by.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Yeah. There was a lecture recently at a workshop that I’m co-curating with the futurist, and Toshika Arno Sutton was there, and she was also part of the BIPAC Design History. And she presented an exercise that she did in her degree program, and it was around the genealogy of design. And she infused in it her musical influences, her literary influences, the designers that made sense to her that time.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And she mentioned that throughout, she noticed all of her non-design inspirations were of Black culture, but her design inspiration was not of Black culture because there were no Black designers that she was aware of at the time. And that’s when she pivoted her direction. And that’s part of my research so far. I’ve been interviewing my mentor, who is one of the lecturers in Trinidad who teaches almost all of the professional designers.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And she has been teaching for the last 30 odd years at the [inaudible 00:21:15] Institute. And she has said… Well, in the interview, she said, “Well, yes, we have our culture, but there’s a standards to design, there are rules design.” And I’m like, “Miss, but we have rules, but shouldn’t we be allowed to interpret the rules through our lenses that we live.”

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And she says, “Yes, Cherry, your visual vocabulary and your life experiences should influence how you design, but at the end of the day, it’s still based on what the clients want.” And that kind of broke my heart a little bit because I am there thinking as much as I am following the brief of a client, if my audience is in Trinidad, it should reflect my audience more than the rules of design.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Right now, tethering on should I even think about what decolonizing design should be? Or should I just say they are the rules of design and you could break it, but not too much right now. So it’s a confusing space to me as well.

Maurice Cherry:
I can see. I mean, I don’t know. My advice is to break it, that’s just me, but also I didn’t go to design school. So maybe don’t listen to that. But I mean, I can see where that conundrum exists. You definitely want to pull from what you know, but, wow, that’s so interesting. That’s so interesting to hear. I want to talk about the Futurist since you mentioned it. Can you talk about what it is and sort of what attracted you to it?

Cherry-Ann Davis:
So The Futurist is a para academic organization. So it’s an Institute that provides guidance for writers and that’s how I initially engaged with it. So last year in 2020, there was a workshop called Troublemakers. It’s the second workshop that was held. And it’s basically any format of an online course, as well as a writing workshop for students who want to be a part of a community of let’s say troublemakers, literally.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
So we are the ones who are doing texts on difficult subjects and themes that most universities don’t necessarily want to get involved with or get too deep in because it’s a hard topic to navigate. So for me, a Trinidadian being in a Swiss design school, and one of my professors actually asking me, “So what’s the difference between your work as a Trinidadian and a Jamaican student who was enrolled at the time?”

Cherry-Ann Davis:
I was like, “Well, She’s from Jamaica.” Those simple things that I needed a community to even understand some of the terms that I needed to negotiate, and Futurist was that community. So I started off in futurist as participants in a workshop, and I messaged and I said, hey, I want to be a part of this. If you need an intern, I’m available.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
I have a lots of free time next year because I’m extending my studies and I want to be a part of this. And at the beginning of this year, I was looking for a job and I just came out of an interview to be a nanny for two kids. And I was like, Cherry, you can’t be on nanny for nobody children because you don’t have that level of patience. You have two degrees, and the moment somebody child turn to you and shout a little too loud, your Caribbean instinct might hit in and you might want to discipline the child.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And this is not Trinidad. People won’t understand this. And at that moment negotiating these thoughts with myself to not say yes to that type of job, I got an email from Nina and she was like, “Cherry, are you still interested in being an intern?” I was like, thank you, Jesus. You know my heart. And at that moment, I was like ,”Yes. Hell yes. I will send on my resume.” And she was so impressed with how I was in the workshop with my texts.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
So at the workshop, you present a text that you want to work on for three months period, and within that period, you help… What was the word I’m looking for? You help other participants by reviewing their texts as well. So it’s a peer review, but under the guidance of added time three persons who were at The Futurist.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
So in that, you give feedback to your partners, but you’re in a group of about six or seven persons and any group, you all just provide feedback on each other’s texts. And throughout, I was always able to provide guidance, or provide suggestions, or there was always a rapport of me helping. And that led to me being open and able to be a part of The Futurist. And this year, I co curated. So I came up with the program along with Nina, which is against the grain. It’s an online course, as well as the writing fellowship.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m looking at it now on the website and it says it’s an online course and fellowship program fostering critical perspectives on the designed past and democratizing access to design history writing in a broad sense. I love that The Futurist’s focus is on design politics and design writing. Is that just sort of born out of what Nina, who is the, I guess she’s what, the founder of Futurist?

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Is that sort of born out of what she wanted to do or did you see this more as a community need?

Cherry-Ann Davis:
It’s both. So the first aspect for all of our online workshops is we create a theme, and from the theme, we invite persons to sign up for the online course. This is the third iteration. And for this iteration, it was a payment for the persons who wanted to participate in the online course, and in your participation to the online course, you will be sponsoring the persons who wanted to take part in the writing course.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And this worked out really well because we were able to open the online course for more persons, as well as the writing course for 42 persons who are writing critical design theory texts. And this format provides also a community. We operate on slack mainly. So we have a community of over 250 persons. Any slack group for just this one workshop against the grain.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And last workshop, which was troublemakers, we had 50 persons, and this workshop was mainly focused on writing. But with this new iteration, we were able to do a bit more and open up the community to a larger amount of people. So we have people from seven continents all over.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. Seven, even Antarctica?

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Okay. Maybe not seven continents.

Maurice Cherry:
I was going to say, if you all got a research scientist or some penguins or something, that’s pretty dope.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
But we do have one person doing research on the Dodo bird, which is quite interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
I love that the focus is on writing. And I guess the, I don’t know, eventually those pieces will get published on Futurist once they’re through with this workshop.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Yes. So this is a format that has moved from the first workshop, which was The L.i.P. Collective, very focused on feminists writing throughout a period, and then truly troublemakers, a lot of the pieces are still being published. And with against the grain, this would provide texts that will be published on The Futurist.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
So a lot of times when people do master’s research and they put their life into this, they put the two years worst of knowledge into this, it just sits in a drawer somewhere and nobody reads it. As much passion that is imbued in this work, nobody reads it. Nobody gets to see this research and Futurist provides the opportunity for this research to be viewed by as many persons as possible. And I think that’s one of the best things.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And I could access to this as well because my text, as part of the troublemakers, was published recently. It is called Culture No Context where I was looking at the ethics of ethnographic museums. So I had a lot of beef with ethnographic museums when I came to Switzerland and I went to a couple. I was able to process that through the workshop, and it’s also part of my thesis for my master’s as well.

Maurice Cherry:
What is an ethnographic museum?

Cherry-Ann Davis:
So ethnographic museums are museums that take cultural artifacts and displays in a artistic sense. So if you think of textiles or sculptural pieces from Africa, India, Oceana, South America, all of these things will be just on display in an ethnographic museum. Sometimes it may be a range and gallery style. So it might be curated for a collection, or it might just be in their archives open for people to view, which is another thing that was hard for me to deal with.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting. Wow. I want to break a little bit from talking about, of course, your journey and the work that you’re doing in Switzerland just to go back to Trinidad and Tobago for a minute. Talk about what it was like growing up there.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Well, Trinidad and Tobago is the most beautiful place. Everybody will tell you their island nice, but my island real, real nice. But I grew up in [inaudible 00:31:24], which is a place that the news always portrays as one of the worst place in Trinidad and Tobago. That wasn’t really my experience. I experienced community. I experienced people looking out for each other.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Yes, there is violence in our communities, but it’s not as much as the news reports it to be. And I’ve always had this view that, hey, maybe what you read on the news is not always true, because it wasn’t always my lived experience. I went to school in places that people will associate as the worst areas of Port of Spain. So there’s a part of Port of Spain that people call wrongly bridge.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
So there’s Picton, Nelson Street and Bethlehem Girls. These were three primary schools in the area and I went to Bethlehem Girls, and I fell in love with art in the primary schools of Bethlehem Girls in our area where there were people tune in ponds, people making mass costumes. There was always creativity and vibrance in every aspect of my life. Move on love.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And until is places where the pan came from, which is in national instruments. And carnival really is boosted in these areas that people don’t like the most. And I’ve always had a idea that, and creativity is born in the places where struggle is also overwhelmingly popular.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What it sounds like is that you grew up around a lot of creativity and ingenuity from these so-called rough neighborhoods or these rough places.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Yeah. There was so much ingenuity because you had to find ways to survive. You had to find ways to make money. You had to find ways in order to feed your family. My grandmother used to sell in a markets every weekend, and I used to be there with her. I had my own little stalls selling my own little things, trying to make money for my own self.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And at that time, I didn’t understand that she was teaching me about business on how to invite people so that you could sell them your products over the person next to you who may have the same products. And many times she would tell me to draw a sign and put the price and everybody else would just have the number $2 for a [inaudible 00:33:51] tomatoes.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
I would take my time and I would draw it and I would put little sunflowers around it. And these little things, I think it may not have helped. But I think to myself that these may have invited people to come to our stall to buy more things. But in different ways, creativity was always around me.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
But sometimes I wasn’t aware of it at the time. And hindsight, it’s not 2020 anymore. Hindsight, is really you think that it makes you realize, hey, the lesson that you didn’t learn then, you’re learning now. We’re not talking about 2020 anymore.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now, when you were in Trinidad and Tobago, you started out at the College of Science and Technology and Applied Arts, and later you finished up at the University of Trinidad and Tobago. I’m totally basing this off of your LinkedIn. So please feel free to chime in and correct me if I’m wrong. But you kind of made this switch from marketing to design. Where did that shift come in?

Cherry-Ann Davis:
As a teenager, after my grandmother passed away, I moved in with my uncle and aunt and they really pushed me more towards the business side because I was always two minds about either business or art. I did both in high school. So I had to pay to do art because it wasn’t offered with the subjects that I wanted. So art was always something on the periphery. And they really encouraged me to go more to the business side.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And I was like, well, if you’re sending me to do business, I’ll do business that I like, which was marketing at that time. I started in 2006, and at that time, the governments of Trinidad actually provided free tertiary education for all citizens. So you could go to college for free. And I went, and I got my associate degree in marketing, but then I decided maybe I could switch to art.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
So I got a diploma and visual communication design. At that time I was like, what do I do next? I decided that I will go finish my degree in business because I am the type of person that once I start something, I like to finish it. So I wanted to get my degree in business. That was the moment I realized I don’t like business, having to do human resource management and organizational principles.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
I’m the person who, as much as I can memorize theory, I like to be able to explain it and I could create a story out of it and not repeat it word for word. So that did not work out too well for me in those exams, but I passed, and I realized my passion really lies within being creative and telling stories.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And if I could do that visually, I’ll go back and get my degree in visual communication design. So after my business degree, I got my degree in graphic design at the same university. And it was a distance learning program. So it was a university in Sunderland in the UK, but there was a center in Trinidad that you go to and you would get the same qualifications.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So after you are studying and you make the switch to graphic design, and you’re doing that, what was your early career like after you graduated?

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Well, after I graduated with my marketing associate degree, I got a job in a bank as an office assistant. So all of the other degrees, which is visual communication, and my two bachelor’s, those were done part-time. So I worked during the day and I went to school at night, which I will not recommend to anybody unless you have a lot of heart and determination.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
It was extremely difficult at that time. I was grateful that my job required no brainpower. So as an office assistant, I was basically just filing papers, enter drawers for the entire day. And then three years later, I got a promotion to an administrative assistant where I also had to deal with running the department.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
So making sure all of the office supplies were in order and making sure all of the managers had whatever they need for meetings. That is when I realized I cannot do this office administration thing anymore. Some managers just don’t know how to speak to people, especially when they think that they are in a lower position than them.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And many times, I wanted to curse out my managers, but I remember that I had a job that paid for my degree and paid for all the things that associated with me in getting that degree. So doing design is never as simple as a business degree. You always have to get art materials. You have to think about printing the projects and all of these things.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
As much as the government was providing free tuition, I still had to think about how do I present a project to look professional. All these printing costs and all of these other things that you don’t necessarily think about before. So I had to keep my job. And I realized that within RBC, there is a internal graphic designer.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
So when I was there as an office assistant, I looked through the company directory and I called the graphic designer at the time. I was like, hi, I want to do graphic design. I want to know what qualifications do you have? How did you get the job? And the person, she was really sweet. And she told me the school that she went to, and it was actually the same school that I was in at the time.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And she would help me with my assignments and helped me just to get the portfolio that I needed to become a graphic designer. And when she left, she told me, “Cherry, apply for the job.” I did not get a job the first time, but one year later, the person who replaced her left. And at that time, I was able to get work experience in graphic design.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
So within the year of that person holding my spot as a graphic designer of RBC, I was able to teach graphic design with a government program at the time, which was retraining adults who wanted to learn a skill. So after not getting a job and feeling really disappointed, I was able to find something that gave me the experience. So the next time the job came up, I was able to apply again and get the job. So it works out in the end.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. I mean, first of all, shout out to that woman for helping you out and letting you know this was an opportunity that you could take and also kind of motivating you to get to that point.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Yes. She really did, and she’s still a friend till today. She messaged me this week.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say is the best thing about the work that you do now?

Cherry-Ann Davis:
The best thing about the work that I do is that nobody tells me what I could do. So I initiate all my projects myself. It’s something that I never think that I could do because I have a knack for executing other people ideas really, really well. So you give me a vision. You tell me what you want to do. I sit down, I plan with you and we get this done. But when it comes to doing it for myself, there’s so much fear.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
There’s so much apprehension. But over the last year, 2020 has taught me if you are afraid, that just means you’re heading in the right direction, and your better mush the gas under the brakes. So just keep going full steam ahead, and that really helps me to think about how to approach these projects.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
So a lot of the projects that I’m doing right now is around things that I’ve always loved. So I’ve always loved history, I’ve always loved music, I’ve always loved Trinidad. And a lot of my projects revolve around these things.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you found while you’ve been there in Switzerland, and I know places have been locked down, but have you found some, I don’t know, sense of community or some kind of sense of home there yet?

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Yes and no. So for me, it was difficult to make friends because as any person who is moving to German speaking Europe will tell you if you don’t speak German, that’s the first strike against you. And I don’t speak German. And it was difficult for me to even have conversations with persons because most people can’t get past my accent even when I speak in my most standard English, as they would want to put it.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
People just so enamored by, “Oh my God, your accent is so beautiful.” But I’m asking for directions to go to the grocery. I need you to tell me where I’m going. And for me, finding a community actually happened while I was in school. So for us, there was a break in the lockdowns during the summer period, and I was just so happy to get out of my, it was not even a flat, my room and my dorm and the students who were also coming during the summer to do some work.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
So I found a community with my friend, [inaudible 00:43:24]. She was from Israel, my friend, Paulina, and she’s from Poland, Swati, who’s from India, Pahlavi, who’s also from India. And I have two German friends as well. For us, it’s a community of immigrants, but we usually find a lot of common ground that we could all talk about, which is usually food and spices.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
So I was able to form a community in my school during the time when nobody should be in school, which is the summer period. And we were all there just trying to catch up on what we think we would have lost during the lockdown.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s so interesting you mentioned that about food kind of being this sort of connective thing between you and other immigrants there. I just finished watching this documentary series on Netflix called High on the Hog. I think it just came out today, as the day we’re recording it, and I’m not sure if it’s available everywhere on Netflix. It may just be U.S. Netflix, not sure, but look it up.

Maurice Cherry:
So High on the Hog. It’s a four-part documentary series and the host goes from Benin, West Africa to Charleston, South Carolina, to… where else does he go? I know he goes to Texas. I feel like he goes somewhere. Oh, he goes to Philadelphia, and then he goes to Texas. And it’s sort of tracking how so much food, and vegetables, and recipes, and tastes, and spices that were there in Africa made the voyage over and became the basis of soul food here.

Maurice Cherry:
But I think sort of the connective tissue of that documentary and what you’re talking about is one, how food can be this sort of unifying factor, and how it seems like when food is on the table, and this is probably true in any culture, where foods on the table, we’re a lot more similar than we are different.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Very much so. I could attest to that. One of my friends, she’s actually doing her master’s on the intimacy of food. And just in having discussions with her, I understand all of the walls and the barriers that we think are there with food in front of us, it’s not anymore. And you are able to communicate and share experiences a lot easier just by sharing that intimate moments of eating in front of somebody or even eating with them.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I want to say, I don’t mean to embarrass you by putting this out here, but speaking of food, as I was doing my research, I saw that you are doing cooking videos on YouTube, which made me so hungry watching them. But please talk about that.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Oh my God. So during the lockdown, I was craving doubles, which is the quintessential Trinidadian breakfast. Any Trinidadian will tell you that doubles, right doubles will make you feel that you’re a Trinidadian. And you can’t ask a Trinidadian who has the best doubles, because they will always give you a different answer. But for me, doubles has grown up with me.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
I remember when doubles was $1 and then moved to $1.50. When it went up to $1.50, I stopped buying doubles for a month. And then it went up to $2, and I was like, it is only going to go up from here. Doubles is the cheapest thing that you could get for breakfast, but it also satisfies you after that.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
After you party all night and you’re sweaty and you’re still drunk, you will find a doubles vendor to give you that hot [inaudible 00:47:05], and it will remind you of everything that is good in the world. And that was the feeling that I wanted, to relive when I started my cooking journey on YouTube. I am still very shy in doing videos, but I’m getting there, and I am working on it.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
I brought my cookbook with me from Trinidad, which is naparima cookbook. I think it’s the book that all Trinidadians learn to cook from. And I am going through that book as though is it… I think there’s a movie called Marie & Marie, where she’s cooking through… Is it Marie? No. Julie & Julia, where she’s cooking through all of the recipes of a Julia child’s cookbook.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah. Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, I think. I know what you’re talking about.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And I will definitely be doing that. And I want to bring more recipes to YouTube using Swiss ingredients because I honestly thought I would not find anything that would taste like home in a restaurant, and I haven’t. So this is why I’m cooking online. And for me, it’s also a sense of bridging that gap where people think, especially in Switzerland, that a stranger is somebody who you have to be afraid of.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
But once I share food with you, you can’t be afraid of me anymore. This is me showing you my culture, showing you my side of life. And it involves a lot of flavor and all of… It involves sustainability in ways in which you may not have considered. So we use all of the food. We use all of the vegetable. We use as much parts of it as possible throughout the cooking. And I want to bring that to the university.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That sustainability part, you mentioned, that’s also something in that documentary that I talked about that I thought was really interesting. So there’s this thing, and I think maybe this exists in other countries, but certainly here in the United States because of slavery and such there’s this notion that goes around that slaves were kind of given the bad cuts of meat or the unpalatable cuts of meat. And we learned how to cook it, use those and in varied ways like pig’s feet or pig ear or something like that.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Pig’s tail, chicken feet.

Maurice Cherry:
But this documentary showed that we’ve always been like that’s not necessarily something that came about because of slavery in America. That’s something that Africans have been doing because when they hunt and they get the animal, they use the entire animal.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Yes. And a lot of indigenous cultures have used these things for centuries. And it’s only because this new tomb has been coined sustainability that people are now looking at how could we use as much of the products that we have as possible? Hey, hello, we’ve been doing this. You are new to the game. Let us show you how to do it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I first heard about doubles actually because of this show. Back in 2015, I interviewed, I think she might’ve been the first Trinidadian person I had on the show. Her name was Jeunanne Alkins as she has a animation company and a design company called Everything Slight Pepper.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Oh, yes.

Maurice Cherry:
And she was mentioning the name of it came from that’s her doubles order.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Yes. Every Trini you must have slight pepper. If you don’t have slight pepper, I’m not sure if you have a Trinidadian passport. If you have a little sweet sauce too, you have a Trinidad and Tobago passwords we would say for sure.

Maurice Cherry:
And I have to say your videos on YouTube, the food looks amazing. The stew chicken, the macaroni pie, keep it up.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Thank you so much.

Maurice Cherry:
It looks so good.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
It was all done with my iPhone.

Maurice Cherry:
Look, that’s what a lot of people are using. I mean, come on. I just got a new phone last month or so because I’ve been holding onto my old phone. And this thing has three cameras on the back. These phones are getting so sophisticated. Use the phone. That’s where all the good cameras are

Cherry-Ann Davis:
For me I actually had a DSLR. And when I was leaving Trinidad, I realized this is too much for me to carry. I sold my DSLR and the money that I got from it, I put it towards buying the iPhone 11 because I know in the next two to three years, I’ll be a student and I’m not making any money to buy any new phone.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
So I wanted the letters and I wanted to make sure that if I do anything with regards to recording or videos of photography, at least I have something that could provide me with good quality. And I am honestly excited to share more cooking videos. And those videos were released as part of my first curatorial project.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
It’s called We Cooking and it was part of a performance festival in Zurich called Zurich Moves and which I curated my thing as 12 other Caribbean designers to present work into a publication, but it tends on a mystery of Zurich Moves. Four curators came together and we produced a publication that is going viral. It’s getting lots of buzz in the arts within Zurich. And my mind is blown. This was the first time I’ve ever done anything like this and I want to do so much more of it.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, if you don’t mind, I would love to link to your YouTube channel in the video so the audience can check them out as well. They’re really good.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Definitely. Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you feel creatively satisfied?

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Right now? Yes, I do. I actually had this conversation a few weeks ago with one of my friends who still works in the bank. And she said to me, Cherry, if you did not leave the bank at the time that you left, I’m not sure you would have been able to survive because, for me, moving to Switzerland was a three-year project in which it involved at least 10 other people.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
So 10 of my friends were there just cheering me on and making sure that I made my savings goals and helping me think about ways in order to make additional money to pay for my bills to move to Switzerland. However, it was called vision 2020 and it was not my goal to move to Switzerland. My goal was to move to Germany to go to design school there. When I got rejected, I had to change plans. I had to pivot really quickly.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And the friend who dropped me when I came to Switzerland, he actually came to Trinidad and he was like, “Cherry, this is a really nice school. I think you should come.” And he brought me brochures and I was like, “Hey, if Switzerland accept me, I’ll come.” And I applied and they did.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
So that’s how I got here and this is how a lot of my creativity I could see the value in it now because it’s something that I’m doing and I’m doing from my heart and I’m doing the projects that I really feel passionate about. And I really want people to take notice of how passion could collide with purpose and provide inspiration for you to do things and go places that you may not have necessarily thought was within your reach before.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? It’s 2026. You’re out of school by this time. What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Cherry-Ann Davis:
I want to be a writer and a lecturer. So the reason that I did my masters was to become a lecturer at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, which is one of the universities that I attended. But I am thinking now that with Zoom and Skype and the accessibility that we have for online learning, I don’t need to limit myself so geography.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And I would to continue writing, design politics, and design thinking, and design critique pieces because there’s so many people and it will just react to everything the same things about design. And not looking at the nitty-gritty and the people who are being left out of the design conversations.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
And I want to say, hello, we’re here. Take a look at these with my writing. But I also want to help the next generation of designers see that anything is possible and that they could bring their authentic selves into what they are designing.

Maurice Cherry:
Just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work online?

Cherry-Ann Davis:
So online I am at sliceofcherrypye. So it’s pie with a Y. So it’s sliceofcherryP-Y-E.site. And I’m also on Instagram with the same names, sliceofcherrypye, Twitter, TikTok as well where I just make fun out of things on TikTok. Those are the places.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Cherry-Ann Davis, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you really for sharing your honest look at how your life has been coming from another country and being in Switzerland during this whole lockdown and everything, but also really I can tell you have a lot of deep thoughts behind the work that you do about just kind of these intersections of culture and design and history.

Maurice Cherry:
And I’m excited to see the work that you produce whether it’s through the Futuress or through your studies. I’m excited to see how you bring your culture and all this work that you’re doing into this world that perhaps in Switzerland is not ready for it, but I have a feeling that you’re going to make them ready for it whether want to be or not. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Cherry-Ann Davis:
Thank you very much, Maurice. I just want to say one thing. My project is called Waiting Self and it’s exploration of what design could look like if culture is infused into it. So if I didn’t mention that before.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world.

We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

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We’re headed back to the Caribbean this week and talking with designer and creative director Tanya Marie. Tanya is the creator of Designer Island, an online publication that curates the modern Caribbean aesthetic.

We talked about why Tanya started Designer Island, and from there explored a bit about the Caribbean design aesthetic and what it means. She also shared how she first got into design, the new journey of entrepreneurship, and gave some context on what designers should know about about the Caribbean design community. Tanya’s mission is about changing the way people view “made in the Caribbean”, and I think you’ll come away from this interview with a new and fresh perspective. Thanks Tanya!


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Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
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Revision Path is also sponsored by Hover. Visit hover.com/revisionpath and save 10% off your first purchase! Big thanks to Hover!
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Revision Path is brought to you by MailChimp. Huge thanks to them for their support of the show! Visit them today and say thanks!
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This week, we’re heading down to Trinidad and talking with Jeunanne Alkins, the creative powerhouse behind Everything Slight Pepper and ESPjr, a design studio specializing in Caribbean-themed content for children. From apparel to graphic design to animation, Jeunanne really does it all.

We talked about how Jeunanne got started in the field of design, the creative community in Trinidad, the notion of a Caribbean design aesthetic, and a lot more. I have a feeling you’ll be seeing and hearing more from Jeunanne in the future. Grab a doubles with “everything slight pepper” and enjoy!


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And of course, much thanks to Creative Market, a marketplace that sells beautiful, ready-to-use design content from thousands of independent creators around the globe.
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Revision Path is also sponsored by Hover. Visit hover.com/revisionpath and save 10% off your first purchase! Big thanks to Hover!
Hover logo
Revision Path is brought to you by MailChimp. Huge thanks to them for their support of the show! Visit them today and say thanks!
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