The Duke of Uke: Introduction

Duke of Uke is a ukulele shop in East London which has been conducting its business in it’s current form since 2005. We students were tasked with producing something to celebrate their 10 year anniversary. We were to create a window display, animated GIF, series of images for Instagram, or something else which I can’t remember. 

The Duke of Uke shop
The Duke of Uke shop

We went to the shop and listened to shop-owner Matt and in-house designer Paul talk us through the history of the business, ukuleles in general and some of the core design elements they incorporate in their public image. Chief among them was a 1950’s crow mascot (which may or may not have had underlying racist connotations. I find racism is like bad kerning; once you’re aware of it, you start seeing it everywhere, and I did just finish writing an essay which delved into race politics, but I digress.) I wanted to use the crow-man in my work, since I gravitate towards illustrating people and focussing on form more than colour or pattern. Then we all the left the shop for some communal idea generation up the road at the university.

Two Black crows. Does this reinforce subtle (or not so subtle) undertones of racism? Let's say no, since I used it as reference and all my friends of multi-national cultures and backgrounds will be so disappointed if using this image makes me racist too.
Two Black crows. Does this reinforce subtle (or not so subtle) undertones of racism? Let’s say ‘no’, since I used it as reference and all my friends of multi-national cultures and backgrounds will be so disappointed if using this image makes me racist too.

One of my fellow students struck on the brilliant idea of telling a fictional history of the ukulele, using famous paintings such as the colonial Americans meeting the native Americans for the first time and exchanging ukuleles, as well as parodying the Lincoln/Calhoun portrait by having a ukulele in it. Naturally, all heads would be replaced with crow heads. It was a good idea, and no artist worth his salt is above stealing good ideas, but I didn’t want to rip him off (firstly, he’d do a better job with it than me and secondly, he’s my friend, so that would just be a dick-move), but like I said, it was a good idea. I decided to play around a little with very quick mock ups, I did one of Lincoln just because the irony of sticking another head on John Calhoun’s body was just too good to pass up, but then I veered off into parodying famous musical album covers. Actually, I think I only did the Beatles Abbey Road one…

My crude Lincoln mock-up
My crude Lincoln mock-up. They say Lincoln’s head was painted on top of an existing portrait of John Calhoun, to create a ‘heroic’ portrait of ol’ honest Abe.
dou blog 2
The Beatles, but not as you know them…

I wasn’t especially inclined to continue this line of inquiry, so I dropped it. While I make a (lifelong) habit of referencing the work of others through parody and laugh in the face of copyright law and it makes sense, as teaching customers to play cover versions of famous music is a part of what the Duke of Uke offers, even I balk at taking references from the music industry. #shiver# 

At this point I had decided that the outcome I wanted to move towards was to create a GIF, so I went of to do some research in that area.

But that is a tale for another day…

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