A Design Warrior

Malene Barnett in Jaipur, India. Photo: Courtesy of Malene Barnett

It all started with a powerful post on Instagram. Malene Barnett called out a lack of diversity during a day of panel discussions at one of the design industry’s esteemed centers. Her comments weren’t just about the panel, but about the pattern of exclusivity that still permeates the design world. Barnett took action by founding the Black Artists + Designers Guild in November 2018. She describes it as “a curated collective of black artists and designers throughout the African diaspora.” To date, the Guild has enlisted 80 designers and artists, many of whom gathered for the first time on February 12 at the Décor NYC showroom to celebrate the Guild’s launch with an exhibit of their work. Here’s a primer on seven artist and designers you should know.

Malene Barnett

Malene Barnett, founder of the Black Artists + Designers Guild.

Malene Barnett, founder of the Black Artists + Designers Guild, started her design career in the rug industry before creating her own line of bespoke carpets in 2009. Since then, her company, Malene B, has grown to include her painting and ceramics. Her recent work in clay led to an artist-in-residence program at Greenwich House Pottery, where she created hand-built vessels inspired by mud-house designs in West Africa.

“I have been traveling solo ever since I was in my 20s,” Barnett says of her global adventures, which started with a graduation gift she gave herself — a three-month-long trip to Gambia, Ghana, and India. Since then, she has touched down in over 20 countries, most recently in Dubai, Nepal, and Senegal. Barnett’s decision to found the Guild was based on her desire to change the conversation with her friends and design colleagues, which kept harping back to the lack of diversity in the design industry. “I decided to use my voice and resources to create an online platform to showcase the work of black artists and designers,” she says.

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