Malene Barnett

Artist Statement

My work examines the relationship between handmade techniques in modern art and design. My travels around the world, coupled with a deep appreciation for the details and forms found in West African art, have offered me a unique insight. Research — in mediums, processes, and techniques — is where I examine my ideas, and new concepts arise that are explored and then applied to future works. In this process, I channel the paths of renowned artists such as Lois Mailou Jones, Elizabeth Catlett, Barkley 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.

ON PATTERN: Patterns make bold statements, and color can be intensely powerful. They both retain a beautiful ability to stir-up emotions, draw attention, and connect people. As a mixed-media artist, I use pattern and color to transform any surface using marks and motifs that evoke memories from the past. It was early childhood trips to the Caribbean and then extensive travels through Africa, Southeast Asia, and Europe, which gave me reverence for the repetition of color and patterns. I now use them in my work intuitively.

ON CLAY: My art pays homage to my ancestors. From the local potter and textile weaver to the woodcarver, a dedication to both craft and purpose kept cultural traditions alive and created legacies that continually drive me to push storytelling through my works in clay. My connection to clay is a spiritual one. Unlike other mediums I’ve used in the past, clay carries flexibility in both surface and form, leaving traces of fingerprints to follow the making-process.

-- Malene Barnett


Malene Barnett is an artist, entrepreneur, and authority on the cultural traditions and practices of art in the African diaspora and how it translates into her vision of the modern black experience. From her sculptural ceramic tiles and vessels to mixed media paintings to handwoven rugs, Barnett continues to evolve her craft and share her African heritage with a global audience. Using natural materials like the finest wools, silks, pastels and clay, she uncovers a deeper language of her legacy and an authentic understanding of her cultural identity. A passionate connector and expert ambassador, her mission is to use art as a tool to create community impact and open doors for the next generation of black artists and expand the conversation around marginalization in the arts and create greater opportunities for inclusion. As the founder of the Black Artists + Designers Guild, a global platform and curated collective of independent black artists, makers, and designers, she is always seeking new ways to define the black narrative and experience for a new generation while bringing awareness to inequality. She’s also on the board for Cerf+, an organization that provides emergency loans to artisans and craftspeople during natural disasters.Equal parts artist, anthropologist, and activist, she hopes to bridge the function of textiles and ceramics from the African region by exploring what it means to be black in America today. Her work has been praised in New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Interior Design Magazine, New York Magazine, Traditional Home, Elle Decor, HGTV Magazine, Luxe + Design Magazine, and House Beautiful. She was also on the cover of Brownstoner Magazine and Wendy Goodman’s Designer Lives video series with New York Magazine’s The Cut. Her entrepreneurial spirit was captured in the NY Times bestselling book “In the Company of Women” and Home by Hygge & West. She has appeared as a guest speaker on Morning Joe, MSNBC Your Business, and TEDx. Malene’s clients include Marriott, Viacom, Saks, WeWork, Avalon Communities, and the MetLife Building. In 2019, she was awarded designer of the year by interiors + sources Magazine and the RADD Award (Real Estate, Architecture, Design Development) from She is a sought after speaker and has done engagements and keynotes for KBIS, THE D&D Building, United Nations, The Affordable Art Fair, and many others.Malene Barnett is based in Brooklyn, New York and is available for collaborations, public speaking, and business leadership projects.