What’s Left Behind

Malene Barnett

Nov 1st - Dec 31st, 2022

Through gathering fragments of intimate family histories consisting of photographs, oral stories, and my imagination -- my work is a reinvention of self and archival practices through the hands of Black women makers. Drawing from Map to the Door of No Return, Dionne Brand writes, "To live in the Black diaspora is I think to live as a fiction--a creation of empires, and also self-creation. It is to be a being living inside and outside herself. It is to apprehend the sign one makes yet unable to escape it except in radiant moments of ordinariness made like art." My self-creation began by tracing my heritage through DNA composites and comprehending the Black diaspora's creation in the Caribbean through the lens of Black women makers. The results brought me to Nigeria, Jamaica, St. Vincent, and the United States. I focused on each locale's makers, their textile and pottery histories, and the communities that fought for liberation against all forms of oppression. I constantly grappled with a traumatic and painful past, the limitations of both historical and family archives, and a constant reinvention of self. My work reimagined these absences to create beautiful objects holding joyful memories from ancestral pottery and textiles traditions brought to the Caribbean from West Africa. My focal point is four generations of women within my family: my great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and myself. In each repetitive process and imagery, my work gives voice to the diversity of the diaspora, connecting the Caribbean to America. 

In creating an archival practice through making, this work honors the souls of the named and nameless: a tribute to those who courageously pursued Black Life. Each object is a gift to the ancestors and an investment in Black archival futures. Shards of pottery will no longer be the primary source of our histories but rather the community's objects, documentation, and care.


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.

Malene Barnett is an award-winning multidisciplinary artist and textile designer based in Brooklyn, New York. Malene is interested in finding ways to define the Black narrative while raising awareness about racial inequality in America. Her artistic practice is inseparable from her work as an activist. She shares her African heritage with a global audience through sculptural ceramic tiles and vessels, mixed media paintings, and tapestries. Barnett exhibits nationally, gives talks, and publishes work raising awareness around Caribbean makers and ceramic art traditions. She holds an MFA in Ceramics from the Tyler School of Art & Architecture and undergraduate degrees in Fashion Illustration and Textile Surface Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology. Malene has participated at Anderson Ranch, Watershed, Judson Studios, and Haystack residencies. In addition, she is a grantee of a Fulbright to Jamaica and the founder of the Black Artists + Designers Guild, a  collective of independent Black artists and designers.