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Black Artists + Designers Guild to Open Beyond the Mask at High Point Market

Architectural Digest logo Architectural Digest 2019-04-01 Madeleine Luckel
Sheila Bridges' Harlem toile wallpaper is one of the many works that will be on view in "Beyond the Mask." © Photo: Courtesy of Black Artists + Designers Guild Sheila Bridges' Harlem toile wallpaper is one of the many works that will be on view in "Beyond the Mask."

High Point Market will soon kick off its spring edition in North Carolina. The biannual design fair, a leading event for the trade, will be brimming with interesting design. But as the April 6 opening date approaches, one exhibition, organized by the recently founded Black Artists + Designers Guild, already stands out as an event not to miss. The showcase, titled Beyond the Mask, will include a rich variety of highly patterned and textured pieces, as well as furniture by Jomo Tariku, Marie Burgos, and more. Beyond the Mask will open at Plant Seven on the first day of the High Point, and stay open for the remainder of the fair.

Malene Barnett, founder of the BAD Guild, "presented the idea of Beyond the Mask as a way for us as black artists and designers to challenge and expand the current perception of black art, which has been limited to ceremonial West African art in luxury interior environments," says Leyden Lewis, a BAD Guild member and a co-curator of the exhibition along with Nina Cooke John. "To us, black art is much more. We are proud of our African heritage and wanted to use the concept of the mask in the show as an opportunity to take control of our story, by expressing what blackness means in the 21st century."

So what came next? "The process was a collaborative effort between myself, Malene, and Lisa Hunt," Lewis says. "We reviewed the work of current BAD Guild members—fine artists, ceramicists, textile and furniture designers—to create a rhythm of diverse mediums, styles, and product categories. We discovered a common thread amongst the work, and a connection to black culture, color palettes, pattern, and form."

a close up of a mask: Malene Barnett's Kuba vase represents the proliferation of pattern and texture seen in the exhibition. © Photo: Courtesy of Black Artists + Designers Guild Malene Barnett's Kuba vase represents the proliferation of pattern and texture seen in the exhibition.

From there, Lewis explains, each member reflected on what the concept of the mask meant to them individually. Of course, interpretations varied among participants, who helped make this lyrical and non-hierarchical exhibition, as Lewis describes it, a reality. Barnett, whose hand-built vessels with hand-carved markings will be on display, tells AD PRO about the collective offerings presented, saying, "The work illustrates experiences deeply rooted in black culture, utilizing iconic characteristics of black art and design, such as figurative motifs, traditional handmade processes, bold colors and textures—all packaged in a modern design aesthetic."

Perhaps most important, Lewis hopes that this exhibition will have a large impact at High Point. "We are expecting designers, buyers, and manufacturers to stop making excuses for not working with black artists and designers," he says, noting that the Guild's message will be "We are here, our work exceeds expectations, and is reflective of a diversity of experiences." The potential impact of such support would have reverberating influence, and would, in Lewis's opinion, "allow other black artists and designers to be more visible, thereby creating more opportunities for a significant part of American culture to be recognized and truly integrated into an industry that has systematically kept us at the margins." Lewis adds, "There is so much more possibility when inclusion is the norm."

a close up of a chair: The Nyala chair from Jomo Furniture. © Photo: Courtesy of Black Artists + Designers Guild The Nyala chair from Jomo Furniture.

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