By the River
208.3 cm x 208.3 cm x 25.4 cm (82 in. x 82 in. x 10 in.)
(Bridgeton, New Jersey, 1968 - )
North America, American
Medium and Support:
Acrylic, oil stick, Plexiglas, photographs, beeswax, gourd and tar on wood
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Michener Acquisitions Fund, 1997
This vivid construction is Radcliffe Bailey’s deeply felt homage to his ancestors and their journeys through the African diaspora. Richly symbolic, it is an ambitious testament to history and the means of its transmission and interpretation.
The literal centerpiece of By the River is a black-and-white reproduction of a photograph of a dignified African American woman, the picture of a long-ago relative given to the artist by his grandmother. Bailey has embellished the picture, surrounding it with distinctly African references as well as numerous words, numerals, and images relating to the slave trade. The photo’s placement recalls Congolese Nkisi statues, votive sculptures carved out of wood whose presumed supernatural powers are indicated in their belly regions. The bright blue that surrounds the picture evokes Oshun, the Yoruban goddess of rivers, while the gourd painted bright red connotes Shango, the god of thunder. Many of the work’s allusions suggest water, recalling Bailey’s grandfather and father, both avid fishermen, as well as symbolizing physical, psychological, and spiritual passage.
Bailey views his works as articles of healing. Employing a wealth of texture and detail, he reconstitutes narratives of the past from a respectful, contemporary perspective.