Funky Fibers!

Xenobia Bailey, Aesthetics of Funk, Northwest African American Museum © 2011 Robert Wade
Xenobia Bailey, Aesthetics of Funk, Northwest African American Museum © 2011 Robert Wade

Through the On-Site Review program, 4Culture evaluates arts and heritage organizations who receive Sustained Support funding. On-Site Reviewers attend events produced or presented by recipients and write up short reviews, which help to give the adjudicating Sustained Support panelists a patron’s-eye-view of each organization.  Each month, the 4Culture blog presents excerpts from these reviews.  This month’s review is by Justin Mata.


Opening reception at the Northwest African American Museum for the exhibit Xenobia Bailey: Aesthetics of Funk. Xenobia Bailey is an African American artist originally from Seattle who has lived in New York for the last 30 years. The main gallery for the museum—basically one large corridor—held 6 big wall pieces, 5 head-wrap pieces on pedestals, a mannequin with a woven dress and a tent-like structure. They are called “fiber works” and are woven textiles that incorporate beads. The pieces on the wall have overlapping circles and ovals of brightly dyed fabric, with the beads placed throughout. They remind me of mandalas, or vinyl records or even intricate rugs layered onto the wall. They have both sculptural and painterly qualities, and with their size (some of them around 9 feet in width) they pop and demand attention.  They appeared to be inspired by a hugely diverse array of artists and cultures from Ancient African clothing traditions to surrealism to the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky. The works on display were quite impressive and since I was not previously aware of the artist I was happy for the introduction. The art was given ample space, at most one work to an entire 15 foot wall. Because they were so vibrant and could easily have become overwhelming, I enjoyed that they were allowed to breathe.

Although initially I was stunned by the colors, my focus quickly changed and I found myself stepping up close to examine the intricate weaving. I imagined this artist spending hours upon hours laboring in the studio and it increased my appreciation.  I have almost nothing to say about the curatorship or exhibition design, but the more I think about it the more I believe that this is a compliment. Aside from maybe four small wall texts that only gave hints of context or interpretation, the works were left on their own. More direction in this instance would have done the exhibit a disservice as the art was powerful enough to engage the viewer on its own.


The hallway preceding the gallery displays wall texts, memorabilia and photography in a timeline of the African American population in the Pacific Northwest. The event room was the former gymnasium so it was quite large which makes it suitable for community events. I also saw multiple signs pointing to media rooms and other classrooms.  I took all this as proof of the museum as a space for community engagement and interaction and not just a place to hang pictures.


Xenobia Bailey: Aesthetics of Funk will be on display at the Northwest African American Museum through May 6, 2012.