FEBRUARY 15 – MAY 6, 2012 

Internationally known Atlanta-based artist Radcliffe Bailey explores American history and memory to encourage healing and transcendence through art. The exhibition features 30 works that range in scale from grand to intimate, including installations, paintings, sculptures, works on paper and modified found objects.  

The Davis Museum presents the Northeast premiere of Radcliffe Bailey: Memory as Medicine, the most comprehensive examination of works by the artist to date. The exhibition highlights Bailey’s ongoing experimentation and improvisation with different forms that draws inspiration from African art, his family’s past, world history and jazz. On view February 15 through May 6, 2012 in the Bronfman, Chandler, Jobson and Tanner Galleries, the exhibition is free and open to the public. 

“Bailey’s art, informed by a strong social and historical consciousness and solidly grounded in family and community, combines a rich, narrative content with a high-level of abstraction and poetic resonance to explore questions of history and memory,” says Lisa Fischman, the Davis’ Ruth Gordon Shapiro ’37 DirectorMemory as Medicine underscores the Davis’ continued commitment to introducing internationally known contemporary artists to the Boston area.  Wellesley College is honored to present his work, and on a personal level, I’m thrilled to reconnect with Radcliffe since our shared days in Atlanta.” 

Through exploration of the past, the present, and the unknown, Bailey layers meaning into his art by layering objects. Combining two and three-dimensional forms, he uses various mediums and scale to create a diverse and engaging collection of art. Mixed-media paintings and installations incorporate objects steeped in history, including tintypes of distant family members, African sculptures, disassembled piano keys and Georgia red clay. These items suggest stories of the black Atlantic diaspora and migrations more universal and spiritual, and harmonize an intuitive balance of world history and familial memory. The works make visual connections between art and life, people and places, and ancestors and their descendants.  

“Whenever you’re sick, you go to the medicine cabinet.  For me, I go to memory. The idea of memory heals me and takes me to another place,” said Bailey, explaining the title of his exhibition. “Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and other family members and I feel like that’s lost in most families today. In my art, I try to restore some of the lost kinship between people.”


The exhibition presents Bailey’s work by looking at three main themes: “Water,” “Blues” and “Blood.” Works included in the “Water” group feature the artist’s references to the Black Atlantic as a site of historical trauma as well as an artistic and spiritual journey. “Blues” highlights works that illustrate the importance of music as a transcendent art form, including Bailey’s 1999 painting “Transbluesency,” which refers to a book of poems by Amiri Baraka and echoes the “Blues” theme.  The third theme, “Blood,” features works focusing on the ideas of ancestry, race, memory, struggle and sacrifice. This section further explores the artist’s engagement with African sculptures in tandem with his investigation of his own family’s DNA. 


Memory as Medicine features Bailey’s monumental Windward Coast, a sculptural installation that shapes wooden piano keys from more than 400 pianos into undulating waves. A lone head, painted glittery black, bobs in this expanse.  The work of art, which the New York Times calls “a star attraction” among the thirty-five pieces presented, refers to the African slave trade, to water, blues and blood, and evokes musicality, human transcendence and survival. 

In 2006, Bailey learned his family’s ancestral links to the Mende people of Sierra Leone. This inspired the smallest, most intimate work he ever created―a miniature drawing done in ink and coffee on a piece of sheet music that features a Mende mask framed within a tiny red-velvet lined, 19th-century tintype case, as though a family portrait. This work is on view in the exhibition alongside more recent works, including a new sculpture that has the smooth, curvilinear forms of Mende masks. It is made of wood and was repeatedly rubbed with finishing wax in a daily studio ritual. Minus the functional purpose of Mende masks, this work becomes a Brancusi-esque objet d’art, an inscrutable prop for a Neo-Dada-style, contemporary art world performance. 

At the core of the exhibition is Bailey’s “medicine cabinet sculptures.” Their contents include a broad range of culturally charged objects, imagery and raw materials, from indigo powder to tobacco leaves to Georgia red earth. Just as Kongo minkisi sculptures from central Africa contain healing and protective medicine within mirrored packets, the socially cathartic contents of Bailey’s medicine cabinet sculptures are deeply recessed under reflective, tinted glass. These sculptures were conceived to link the too often disconnected histories of peoples of Africa and the African Diaspora and to emphasize collective experiences.  

A number of works in the exhibition highlight the artist’s practice of animating his work with large-scale photographic reproductions of black-and-white prints given to him by his grandmother as well as historic photos he collects, in order to place African Americans at the center of both American and world history. “I am interested in an Africanism that permeates our contemporary world but goes unnamed and is not talked about or fully addressed culturally,” stated Bailey. “I am interested in the impulse of that mysterious African force that propels black people wherever they are in the world.”  

Curated by Carol Thompson, Fred and Rita Richman Curator of African Art, with Michael Rooks, Wieland Family Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, Radcliffe Bailey: Memory as Medicine is organized by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. It is made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts as part of “American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius.” Additional support is provided by the Lubo Fund and the Radcliffe Bailey Guild. 

The presentation and related programs at the Davis are generously supported by Wellesley College Friends of Art, the Constance Rhind Robey ’81 Fund for Museum Exhibitions, and the Betsy Patterson Colburn Endowed Fund for Davis Museum Program Support. 

A full-color catalogue accompanies “Memory as Medicine,” featuring essays by Carol Thompson, Michael Rooks, Edward S. Spriggs, René Paul Barilleaux and Manthia Diawara, with a foreward by High Museum Director Michael E. Shapiro. 


The New York Times describes artist Radcliffe Bailey’s shimmering, shape-shifting works as being fueled by an exploration of “Black Atlantic culture, the vital, nurturing, agitated link between Africa and the Americas.”

Born in 1968 in Bridgeton, New Jersey, Radcliffe Bailey moved to Atlanta when he was four years old. Growing up, his interest in art was piqued by visits to the High and the art classes he took at the Atlanta College of Art. As a teenager Bailey, who grew up in Hank Aaron’s neighborhood in Atlanta, pursued his early love of baseball and played semi-pro for a year. He ultimately decided he was too small for his position as catcher and followed his mother’s vision for him by enrolling at the Atlanta College of Art, where he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1991. 

In 1996, Bailey gained acclaim for his large-scale mural “Saints,” a commission for Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. “Saints” remains on view, welcoming travelers entering the airport at International Terminal E.  From 2001 to 2006 Bailey taught at the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia.  In 2004, he received a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant and was a visiting faculty member of Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2006. 

Bailey’s work is represented in leading museum collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; San Francisco Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. 


 Opening Celebration 

Wednesday, February 15 | 5 pm to 7 pm

Davis Lobby and Galleries


Join us to welcome Radcliffe Bailey to the Wellesley College campus, and celebrate the presentation of his extraordinary exhibition, Memory as Medicine 

Film Screening

Space is the Place (1974) 
Wednesday, February 29 6 pm

Collins Cinema


Sun Ra— a free-jazz keyboardist, space-age prophet, and the star of the film— is one of Radcliffe Bailey’s favorite musicians. In this film, Sun Ra and his spaceship land in Oakland, having been presumed lost in space. With Black Power on the rise and the fate of the Black race at stake, Sun Ra disembarks from his spaceship and proclaims himself the “alter-destiny,” with a mission to rescue and redeem his people. Space is the Place is a portrait of the complex persona and “cosmic” philosophies that made Sun Ra a pioneer of afro-futurism.

Co-sponsored by the Music Department and The Susan and Donald Newhouse Center for the Humanities. 

Conversation with the Artist
Wednesday, March 28 5 pm 
Collins Cinema

Radcliffe Bailey is joined by Carol Thompson, exhibition curator and Fred and Rita Richman Curator of African Art at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and Lisa Fischman, Ruth Gordon Shapiro ‘37 Director of the Davis, for a lively conversation on the artist’s work.

Lecture: Nikki A. Greene on Radcliffe Bailey’s Soundscapes
Wednesday, April 18 
6 pm 
Collins Cinema


Nikki A. Greene, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Art History & Africana Studies, explores the harmony between music and visual art within African American culture. While countless artists call on inspiration from various musical forms, especially blues and jazz, Radcliffe Bailey creates original compositional “riffs” that not only incorporate rhythms and beats structurally, but also transform materials and space (meta)physically as part of his distinctive visual-aural language and style.  

Family Day at the Davis: Memory in Mixed Media
Saturday, April 21 
| 11 am – 1 pm 
Davis Lobby and Galleries


Inspired by Radcliffe Bailey: Memory as Medicine, this Family Day examines memory — personal and collective — as a source of inspiration in art making. Young visitors will participate in an interactive exploration of Bailey’s work, with its vibrant colors, unusual materials, dynamic compositions, and rich narratives, followed by art projects based on appropriation, accumulation, and layering.  Focusing closely on Windward Coast, an installation likened to the sea, we investigate the recurring piano keys in Bailey’s work.  Light refreshments served.  


 Location: Wellesley College, 106 Central St., in Wellesley, Mass. 

Museum Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 11 am-5 pm, Wednesday until 8 pm, and Sunday, noon-4 pm.  Closed Mondays, holidays, and Wellesley College recesses. 

Admission is free and open to the public.

Telephone: 781-283-2051


Parking: Free and available in the lot behind the museum. Additional parking is available in the Davis Parking Facility. 

Tours: Led by student tour guides and curators. Free. Call 781-283-3382

Accessible: The Davis, Collins Café and Collins Cinema are wheelchair accessible and wheelchairs are available for use in the Museum without charge. Special needs may be accommodated by contacting Director of Disability Services Jim Wice at 781-283-2434 or jwice@wellesley.edu.  


One of the oldest and most acclaimed academic fine arts museums in the United States, the Davis Museum is a vital force in the intellectual, pedagogical and social life of Wellesley College.  It seeks to create an environment that encourages visual literacy, inspires new ideas, and fosters involvement with the arts both within the College and the larger community. 


The Wellesley College arts curriculum and the highly acclaimed Davis Museum and Cultural Center are integral components of the College’s liberal arts education.  Departments and programs from across the campus enliven the community with world-class programming – classical and popular music, visual arts, theatre, dance, author readings, symposia and lectures by some of today’s leading artists and creative thinkers – most of which are free and open to the public.  

Located just 12 miles from Boston and accessible by public transit, Wellesley College’s idyllic surroundings provide a nearby retreat for the senses and inspiration that lasts well after a visit. 

Since 1875, Wellesley College has been a leader in providing an excellent liberal arts education for women who will make a difference in the world.  Its 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,400 undergraduate students from all 50 states and 75 countries.