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.
Jomo Tariku established his first design studio in 2000 in Alexandria, Virginia (he closed it in 2008). Before that, he studied design at the University of Kansas and did his thesis on contemporary African furniture design. His pieces made a splash at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York in 2017 and were cited by Interior Design as having “caught our eye.”
Jomo’s Ashanti adjustable stool, seen above, is a modern take on a centuries-old object familiar to people across the globe. “Things have truly picked up after joining BADG in 2018,” Jomo says. “And I finally feel I will get a fair shot at introducing a series of African-inspired original designs to the market in the hopes of also licensing some of the designs to capable manufacturers.”