Memory as Medicine
June 4 | September 2
A celebration both of the greater African American story and the artist’s personal discoveries about his family origins, Radcliffe Bailey: Memory as Medicine takes its title from sets of “medicine cabinet” sculptures, such as Procession, one of the McNay’s newest acquisitions. These containers, along with other objects significant to the culture of the South, allude to Bailey’s ancestors and function as medicine as he reaches for memory to restore himself.
Born in New Jersey and raised in Atlanta, Radcliffe Bailey possesses a great sense of history and is deeply rooted in his family and community. To organize the exhibition, Carol Thompson, the Fred and Rita Richman Curator of African Art at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, worked closely with the artist for years. According to Thompson, Bailey’s art, “combines narrative content with a high level of abstraction and poetic resonance to explore questions of history and memory.” Ranging from a miniscule drawing of a traditional African mask to a nearly 24-foot collage, Memory as Medicine focuses on three central, overlapping themes: water, blues, and blood.
Water evokes the trauma of the journey by European slave trading ships from the west coast of Africa to the New World, called the Middle Passage. Approximately 15 percent of kidnapped Africans died during the voyage; deaths associated with the Middle Passage totaled between two and four million. Blues reflects Bailey’s belief in music as a transcendent art form. Piano keys, sheet music, and actual sound are among the elements that he integrates into his work, making it a multisensory experience.
Bailey’s ideas about ancestry, DNA, identity, memory, sacrifice, and struggle infuse his works associated with blood. In 2006, the artist traced his maternal DNA to specific regions of Africa’s western coast: the Mende, Limba, and Temne regions of Sierra Leone, as well as the Bidjogo region of Guinea. African masks and figures, alongside old family photographs from his grandmother, embrace multiple aspects of Bailey’s heritage.
Radcliffe Bailey: Memory as Medicine was organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. The exhibition has been made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts as part of American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius. At the McNay, support is provided by the Elizabeth Huth Coates Exhibition Endowment, the Arthur and Jane Stieren Fund for Exhibitions, the Flora Crichton Visiting Artist Fund, the Ewing Halsell Foundation Endowment for Visiting Artists, the William Randolph Hearst Fund for Education Programs, the Director’s Circle, and the Host Committee. Additional support is provided by Betty Halff, Jane and Bill Lacy, Marge and Al Miller, Carolyn and Allan Paterson, Dr. and Mrs. Harmon Kelley, the Parman Family, and Caroline and William Carrington. Media sponsorship is provided by the San Antonio Express-News.