BOSTON, MASS.- Radcliffe Bailey's work collectively builds an alternate history of transatlantic slave narratives, accounts and histories of culture, science, and art making; histories that ask the perennial what if questions that haunt human history. How we process stolen legacies, devalued humans, unrecognized aesthetic practices and balance their retelling through the lens of modernism and post modernist angst will keep all, us (and them) busy for years to come. No matter the weight of the subject, Bailey finds a way to bring the wonder of freedom to the table. His aesthetic drapetomania pushing our eyes forward, past nostalgia into two and three-dimensional stagings that interrogate the past and present all at once. West African ritual mark making, Dadaist and Surrealist technique, the ghosts of Negritude and Harlem Renaissance aspirations, Expressionist abstractions coupled with cosmic and free jazz influences, folk and funk art, revising stories, retention and contemporary innovations all maneuvered into place; a well staged ensemble propelling conversations around the valuation and re-evaluation of African minds, bodies, and myths.
Radcliffe Bailey's luminous series Notes from Tervuren is a fine example of his unconventional historical narration. Paint applied like sacrificial fluids amid an orchestra of collaged floating signs and sacred symbols wrapped around collaged totems layered and lacquered on aged and weathered sheet music. In his book, Bluetopia: Visions of the Future and Revisions of the Past in the, works of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington and Anthony Braxton, Graham Lock describes music as a complementary form of history and a gateway to other realities. This idea argues music, as a creative vehicle, helped Africans in the Diaspora envision a promised land of the future and recall the memory of a promised land lost in past. The figures in the Tervuren series move, animated by centuries of waiting. KiKongo Nkisi language and culture co-mingles with representations of Mende womanhood in the watery dream world of Olokun spirituality. These artifacts provide a dream of agency and autonomy, visualized as aquatic movements spanning the expansive journey, that Middle Passage, from Mythic Africa to present Diaspora through art world stylisms. Ancestral objects surrounded by chaotic rainbows echo the twilight colors of coming night and dawning day, spirits of memory evoking griots dancing mambos, ghost singers and tale tellers.
Art is one of the ways we humans keep our history, our community, our faith, our prophetic and speculative hopes alive. Art keeps the voice of our love and hate. It speaks to the blues of our glass hearts breaking. It speaks to the piecing of our Osiris selves back together. It is how we give voice to our gods and have them sign their names. It is the hoodoo child coming of age in all of us, fighting to keep a consumed, magical world populated by living myth and ever present wonder. It simultaneously keeps and transforms the narrative of history. Radcliffe Baileys art is an heir to a Pan African, Pan Aesthetic patchwork high culture that has consistently carried the weight of art's communal purpose. Let us all celebrate this griot's song. ---- Kevin Sipp, March 2016.
Radcliffe Bailey was born in Bridgeton, New Jersey in 1968, and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, where he currently lives and works. Bailey received a B.F.A. in 1991 from The Atlanta College of Art. His past exhibitions include, Memory as Medicine, High Museum of Art, Atlanta (2011), which traveled to the Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College (Wellesley, MA), and the McNay Art Museum (San Antonio, TX). New/Now: Radcliffe Bailey, New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, CT (2004), Neo-HooDoo, curated by Franklin Sirmans and organized by The Menil Collection (Houston, TX) at the Miami Art Museum, (Miami, FL 2009), and traveled to MoMA P.S.1, (NY, NY, 2009). Baileys work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY. NY), the Smithsonian Museum of American Art (Washington, D.C.), the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), the Museum of Fine Arts (Houston, TX), the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Kansas City, MO) and the High Museum of Art (Atlanta, GA), among others.