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Arts & Culture

Radcliffe Bailey discusses memory, biennials, and home

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Photo courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Radcliffe Bailey's retrospective "Memory as Medicine" opened at the McNay Art Museum in June and will be on view to September 2, 2012. Last week, the artist returned to SA for a panel discussion at the museum, where he spoke with Current Art Editor Scott Andrews about the importance of being local, the limits of the international art circuit, and a new project he hopes to begin soon in Belgium.

You're based in Atlanta, but this town seems to have taken to your work. How does it feel, as an artist, exhibiting in other communities?
I have always wanted to engage with other communities, but I started in Atlanta, where I'm from. Atlanta's art scene has always been growing, but it is not as identified as, say, Texas as an art scene. … But I always felt more comfortable operating as an artist in Atlanta, and showing throughout all the areas throughout the South, rather thinking about it, "I have to go to New York, and there has to be a focal point there." … I almost look at it like, below the Mason-Dixon line is all one big state. Rather than looking at it like, "Why doesn't Atlanta have this?" I think it all is —  everything is connected.
My first museum show was my first year out of college. It was at the Mint Museum in Charlotte. So that was a lot of help for me — it felt good. Because my parents were there, and there was the whole family, and I felt really supported in that way. So picture it like having a show in the museum in Atlanta was a draw from the community that I had known as a kid, to come to the museum, which a lot of them don't even go to museums. But then all of a sudden they came to a museum, so it was like a good point for me in my career. But it was also good for the city, because a lot of times artists in a city don't get a chance to show in their museum. So for me it's been good on a lot of levels. But to be received outside means a lot. It validates you in a way. And I never really felt, you know, artists, we are some of the most insecure people [laughter]. So that was always a good thing.

One thing that struck me is the way you are addressing traditional African art — you are not appropriating it. There is a knowledge of a distance, a fondness.
I'm trying to be sensitive to it, and respectful. I don't want to play with it — I want to embrace it. To embrace it in a way where it actually feels like it relates. ... Those people still exist, but the difference is those people now are a mixture of all types of people, or different regions. It is a combination of all those things that I am trying to be sensitive about. I was just in Belgium at the Royal Museum for Central Africa. What I am working towards now is trying to become an artist-in-residence at the institution, so I will be there going through all the information and then be able to step back from that and make work — which I am excited about. But it's also hard, because you walk through these spaces, and you see these things — I think there are over 15,000 objects, there are papers, studies of people. It's a colonial museum. It has a whole different take. And it's preserved like that. I don't have problems with that, I have problems with the things that happened to get the objects. But, you know, to think about that space, and to think about back home, and then thinking about being an artist that is from a certain part of the States. And to go beyond regionalism, and see yourself like... Who'd of thought that an artist in Atlanta could consider her or himself as international?  It's even more international than international, because sometimes things that are, quote, international, don't really know the rest of the world.

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