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Forces for change: Black Artists + Designers Guild Malene Barnett

Women – and their organisations – who are championing equity and representation in the design industry

By Piet Smedy  | January 30, 2021 | Category

Photograph: Alaric Campbell
Photograph: Alaric Campbell

Women – and their organisations – who are championing equity and representation in the design industry.

What was it that made you think, ‘This is it, this is the time’ when it came to establishing the Black Artists + Designers Guild?

There were a series of events that led to establishing Badg. The idea had been brewing in my mind for some time and the concept became clearer during a sabbatical from my rug business. since I was no longer hustling to gain new clients, launching collections or attending industry events, I was able to analyse the industry from a different perspective. It was the absence of Black creatives at What’s new What’s next, a major industry event held in New York, that drove me to call out the industry’s inequities in an Instagram post. soon after, the Black artists + designers guild was born.

Personally, because as a Black artist there is a deeply rooted sense of the personal here, what was your journey to activism?

My journey to activism started in my senior year of high school after reading the autobiography of Malcolm X. ever since then, I’ve been learning and spreading the word about the legacy of Black people.

What steps have, are, and will BADG be taking to advance the community of Black artists, designers, and creatives?

Badg has three initiatives: our mission, creative incubator and education fund. Through our initiatives we provide visibility, creative collaborations, and education opportunities for our members and for the Black community. our inaugural project, through the creative incubator, is obsidian, a virtual concept house. We are reimagining the future of dwellings for Black families through a virtual immersion experience. This is a collaborative project amongst Badg members and positions us as creative thinkers, while creating space to support the multiplicity of Black families.

You speak of taking ownership of Black narratives, particularly at the intersection of culture, design and commerce. How can Black creatives instate authority after such a long history of appropriation?

Black creatives can start by committing ourselves to begin the journey of reclaiming our legacy. Start by researching the practices of our ancestors, visit places where Black culture is prominent. This knowledge can be applied to our creative practices and it will encourage us to rethink how we create everything, from objects to spaces.

‘Black creatives can start by committing ourselves to begin the journey of reclaiming our legacy’ Malene Barnett

Since you founded BADG, is there a dialogue in your mind, informed by your conversations and experiences, that has changed the way you work when crafting pieces in your private capacity as an artist?

The dialogue remains the same. I create art, objects and experiences for the liberation of Black people. My work continues to act as a bridge to inspire community and open doors to more in-depth conversations around Black culture.

You are an agent for change, but who are the agents that have informed and changed you as a Black artist and activist?

I continue to channel the paths of renowned artists such as Lois Mailou Jones, Elizabeth Catlett, Barkley L. Hendricks, and others who came before me. Their dedication to both craft and purpose, while keeping cultural traditions alive and creating legacies, encourages me to continue to enhance my artistic heritage with meaning.

While in the US and other countries there are organisations, like BADG, actively working towards representation and equity, how do you think Black creatives from parts of the world where this is not the case should be addressing these issues in a way that can create real and permanent change?

It is time for white ‘gatekeepers’ to address the systemic problems they have created, and for other communities to be proactive and not wait for another Black person to be murdered before joining the battle for racial equality. This struggle shouldn’t depend on the labour or knowledge of Black creatives or people. Give Black creatives and people space – we’ve been fighting injustices far too long and our creativity, mental health and physical wellbeing need to be protected. real and permanent change will occur when every person is fighting for equality for all, systemic problems are erased and new foundations are set. This fight is a lifelong commitment and it’s going to take many years of equity building to arrive at permanent change.

From where you are standing, is there hope for change?

Yes, there is hope, but will permanent change occur in my lifetime? I doubt it. The devastations from racism and white supremacy are embedded in everything we do, and many are numb to the dysfunction. Firstly, people have to acknowledge it, be conscious of it, then take action to go against it everyday. We’re still in the planting phase toward change, it’s not the first time we’ve been here, but I’m hopeful that these seeds will grow to benefit future generations.

Black Artists + Designers Guild | badguild.info