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DCPL Presents: Xenobia Bailey in Conversation with Tsedaye Makonnen

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In this special recording, designer, Supernaturalist, cultural activist and fiber artist Xenobia Bailey is in conversation with DCPL Artist in Residence Tsedaye Makonnen discussing her process, work and inspirations.

Xenobia Bailey studied ethnomusicology at the University of Washington, it was there that her interest in craftsmanship and fabric took full bloom. She worked as a costume designer for the renowned African-American community theater, Black Arts West, until her acceptance into Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1974. She received her BA in industrial design while she learned to crochet under needle artist, Bernadette Sonona, after which she began to create and sell colorful crocheted hats inspired by distinctly African-American patterns, themes and hairstyles.

Bailey is best known for her eclectic crochet hats and large scale crochet mandalas, consisting of colorful concentric circles and repeating patterns. Her pieces are often connected to her ongoing project “Paradise Under Reconstruction in the Aesthetic of Funk”. Her designs draw influences from in Africa, China, and Native American and Eastern philosophies, with undertones of the 1970’s funk aesthetic. Her hats have been featured in United Colors of Beneton Ads, on The Cosby Show, and in the Spike Lee film Do the Right Thing (worn by Samuel L. Jackson as DJ Mister SeƱor Love Daddy).

Bailey has been artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Society for Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh, and the Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation in New York City. Her work has been exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Jersey City Museum, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Her work is in the permanent collections at Harlem’s Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Allentown Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Arts, and the Museum of Arts and Design.

Tsedaye Makonnen is an Ethiopian-American interdisciplinary artist, a mother and a former doula. Recurring themes present in her work are identity, colorism, womanhood, ritual and kinship. She’s particularly drawn to conveying the African Diaspora’s creative responses to assimilating, destroying and recreating the Self within new and/or hostile territories, whether that happens to be a new country or a hospital room. As of late, she has been connecting the forced migrations taking place in DC and abroad through performance art and installations.

Photo courtesy of Xenobia Bailey.

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