Xenobia Bailey's Funky Town

Xenobia Bailey illuminates the northwest african american museum with her “aesthetics of funk” show
Brangien Davis  |   January 2012   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
Xenobia Bailey’s crocheted wall hangings light up the Northwest African American Museum.

What qualifies something as funky? Artist Xenobia Bailey has a pretty clear answer: a passionate spirit of improvisation, of winging it with the materials at hand and celebrating the idiosyncrasies that result.

Born and raised in Seattle, Bailey briefly attended the University of Washington and later earned a degree in industrial design from the Pratt Institute in New York. But the designs that gained her fame were her colorful, sculptural crocheted hats, which she based on African hairdos, headdresses and Hindu mythology. (During the ’80s, these toppers showed up in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, The Cosby Show and Benetton ads.)

Setting out to create a specifically African American visual aesthetic, Bailey expanded her art from hats to giant wall mandalas, costumes and revival tents that recall Hindu temples, all crocheted in hypnotic colors and jangly patterns. The pieces channel folk art, funk music, grandma’s afghans, Pam Grier as Foxy Brown and African royalty—flashes of which combine to create what she calls “Arts-of-Jubilation.” She says her current solo show, Xenobia Bailey: The Aesthetics of Funk, is a homecoming of sorts. We wish she’d stay longer.

Through 5/6. Times and prices vary. Northwest African American Museum, Central District, 2300 S Massachusetts St.; 206.518.6000; naamnw.org.