Thank You, Radcliffe Bailey

A tribute to a legendary artist who sculpted Black history.

Sal
Momentum
Published in
4 min readNov 21, 2023

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Radcliffe Bailey in front of one of his works | Image Source: Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

On November 15th, 2023, visual artist and maestro Radcliffe Bailey found peace after his battle with cancer. He is succeeded not only by his family, but by an incredible body of work, which has been displayed across museums across the United States, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bailey’s contributions to the world of contemporary African-American art cannot be understated, the complexity with which he traced and connected African histories with contemporary Black realities continues to shape and inspire.

“In my work, I try to make something that is peaceful.” — Bailey

Bailey’s artistic vision

Through his work, but more broadly through his artistic approach, Bailey sought to capture the African American lived experience. Bailey used his work to represent the complexity of an interwoven, multicultural identity. He specifically tapped into his parents’ influence in his childhood and his youth in Atlanta, his relationship with music, specifically jazz, and the broader spiritual history of Kongo minkisi to do this.

Within this, he worked to document the realities of the African diaspora, considering the traumatic impact that slavery has had on kinship, community, and the idea of a homeland for the descendants of enslaved people. By drawing inspiration from a variety of sources, his very approach as an artist is laden with his own history, and he does not shy away from interacting with his family history within his body of work.

At the same time, his work is also steeped in the artistic contributions of African-American art forms that grew within the United States, specifically music. Bailey’s use of jazz as what he called ‘the glue’ to some of his works, was part of a larger pursuit of community and spirituality that he sought to add into his work.

Having once said ‘I use my studio as a church’, Bailey believed in the centrality of art and its generation as a spiritual process, not just for the receiver, but for the creator as well. As such, Bailey also commented on and considered the role of art as a method to adjust to the present realities of the world. For…

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Sal
Momentum

I am a History Educator and a Lifelong Learner with a Masters in Global History.