Eight year old Barnett painted and drew with the artistically, talented program every weekend in Norwalk, Connecticut prior to discovering the avenue that would provide a platform to express her devotion to fine art, island culture, and photography. Because public schools offered minimal exposure to art, her mother, a classical pianist, influenced her daughter to pursue the violin, but Barnett’s focus suddenly shifted back to art and textiles in the tenth grade when she chose a painting class over her music. Upon graduation, Barnett’s supportive mother challenged her to contribute one thousand dollars to her college tuition every year until she finished. Naively, she won at her first stint as a merchant at the historical Jackie Robinson Festival by selling t-shirts designed with African art, in order to meet her goal.
A love of fashion and drawing lead her to study Fashion Illustration at New York’s prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), but eventually, she noticed that it was not her forte. When Professor Ishikawa asked, “Barnett, what are you going to do?” she replied, “‘a BFA in textiles’.” Stumbling upon the student textile artwork showcased in the hallways proved to be reminiscent of her adolescent dreams and lead to another shift to the Surface Interiors program.
The daughter of an artistic, Jamaican father, Franklyn, and raised by her mother, Cynthia, hailing from St. Vincent, luxury carpet designer and founder and design director of Malene B is celebrated for creating narratives that are both inspired and deeply rooted in rich Caribbean culture and exotic landscapes. Influenced by the autobiography of Malcom X, the lyrics of Public Enemy and the X Clan, as well as broad travels, Malene Barnett insists that she is probably the most creative, global citizen that you will ever meet!
Earning a degree in Surface Interiors with honors did not come without adversity or refute. As the only black student, she heeded the responsibility to infuse the brilliance of her culture into the design of carpets and rugs. When certain professors found her work to be peculiar, Barnett insisted that they allow her to express herself. She continued to demonstrate her commitment to the black perspective by creating the African Folktale carpet design for her internship with the Carnival Cruise Lines and won the Stark Carpet Design Award and the department medal. As a recent graduate, Barnett became a designer for Nourison Rugs where her creations were sold in Macy’s, Home Depot, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond. All the while, she found her synergy between design and culture while back packing through Southeast Asia and visiting over 25 countries around the world.
Malene B, fortified with design business acumen and a global aesthetic, was launched in 2009 specializing in bespoke carpet designs and serving sophisticated residential patrons, as well as, the commercial and hospitality industry including the Loewes Hotel. “Listen, I’m the only black woman in this industry doing what I do.” Although that difference has distinguished her brand, Barnett, carrying the mantle of her predecessor, the iconic black fine artist, Lois Mailou Jones, still feels the responsibility to encourage people of color to join her profession. Even so, her ultimate goal is to own an island home high on a hill. “‘I don’t have to be on the ocean, I just want to see it’.”
Annick Tyler resides in SC and is the Editor-in- Chief of the 1204 Lounge.