The Radical Black Elite (2024)

by Xenobia Bailey (b.1955)

Commissioned by the Association for Public Art in partnership with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

The Association for Public Art (aPA) in partnership with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) has engaged artist Xenobia Bailey to create a singular emblematic image, The Radical Black Elite, currently on display on street pole banners on Locust Street outside of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Marking Bailey’s first public art installation in Philadelphia, these commemorative banners will be on view throughout spring and fall 2024.

Photo by Ashley Lippolis © 2024 for the Association for Public Art

The artwork includes a mid-1800s daguerreotype of a Black man collaged with crocheted gold embellishments, all of which has been digitally reproduced for the banners. Bailey was inspired by Philadelphia’s free Black community in the 1700s and 1800s, about which she expanded her understanding through the archival collections at HSP, with a focus on figures like James Forten. (The image Bailey’s work references is in the collection of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.)

“In this project, Xenobia Bailey has captured the essence of her research into the under-recognized history of Black people in Philadelphia,” said Charlotte Cohen, Executive Director of the Association for Public Art. “We are proud to bring Xenobia’s work to Philadelphia for the first time and look forward to the conversations and further radical thinking that it inspires.”

A Seattle native now based in Philadelphia, Bailey is a fiber artist, crocheter, designer, researcher, and cultural activist who produces artworks and installations inspired by urban material culture and what she has termed “Funktional Design” – an aesthetic that evolves from the creativity and resourcefulness of rural and urban African American homemakers both historically and today. A student of ethnomusicology and industrial design, Bailey is known for her crocheted sculptural headwear, wall hangings, and tents that articulate the utilitarian material worlds of funk music. Using fiber and found items as her primary materials, she produces a range of pieces that frequently riff on traditional home decor with inventive twists of color and texture, making for an animated lifestyle.

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