ⓘ Xenobia Bailey


ⓘ Xenobia Bailey

Xenobia Bailey is an African-American fine artist, designer, Supernaturalist, cultural activist and fiber artist best known for her eclectic crochet African-inspired hats and her large scale crochet pieces and mandalas. She has said that her specialty is crochet and needlecraft.


1. Early life

Born Sherilyn Bailey in Seattle in 1955, in the 80s she changed her name to Xenobia for the warrior queen of ancient Palmyra and made her way to New York. She began her professional life as a costume designer for the now defunct Black Arts/West and earned a BFA in Industrial Design from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1977. Affirmative action took her to the University of Washington where, she says, "the whole world opened up to me." She discovered ethnomusicology, the study of music and culture from around the world. She followed it with courses in tailoring and millinery at Seattle Central Community College.

In the late 80s, she worked for the CETA program as an art instructor, which led her to meeting master needleworker Bernadette Sonona. It is here that Xenobia advanced her skills and learned how to create needleworks without the use of a pattern or template.


2. Work

African and Asian culture are strong influences for her work. Her large scale crochet pieces and mandalas consist of colorful concentric circles and repeating patterns. Baileys art work ranges from costumes, hats, wall pieces and newer digital images are "the far cry from the traditional shawls and doilies associated with the medium". Her pieces are often connected to her ongoing project Paradise Under Reconstruction in the Aesthetic of Funk.

"To be an artist and be able to create things - its like fireworks every time you think about something," says Bailey. "I try to get energy and movement from something that is not moving at all."

Baileys technique, of mostly circular rows of single crochet, forms a fabric classified as tapestry crochet in flat, geometric, highly-colored designs influenced by African, Chinese, and Native American and Eastern philosophies, with undertones of 1970s "Funk" aesthetic. Her signature stitch is a flowy line, as if it is dripping. She calls it the "liquid stitch". Her hats have been featured in United Colors of Benetton ads, on The Cosby Show, and in the Spike Lee film Do The Right Thing worn by Samuel L. Jackson as DJ Mister Se ñor Love Daddy. She credits her shift from hats to walls, to Chicago artist Nick Cave. In 1999 Baileys piece. "Sistah Paradise Great Wall of Fire Revival Tent Mandela Cosmic tapestry of energy flow." It was exhibited at Stux Gallery, Fall 2000. This particular piece was hand crochet with cotton acrylic yarns, with 10 high x 5 diameter. Larry Qualls took this photo of this amazing work. Qualls, L. 1999. Sistah Paradise Great Wall of Fire Revival Tent Mandela Cosmic tapestry of energy flow. Contemporary Art Larry Qualls Archive, Exhibited at Stux Gallery, Fall 2000) In 2000 Bailey received the Creative Capital Award in the discipline of Visual Arts.

In 2003, her designs were featured in an Absolut Vodka advertisement entitled "Absolut Bailey." 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 of Harlem, the Jersey City Museum, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

As an addition to her ongoing project Paradise Under Reconstruction, she created a hanging installation in 2006 called Mothership 1: Sistah Paradises Great Walls of Fire Revival Tent. This piece was created to cover the topic of absent historical documentation for African enslavement in America.

Bailey was a 2018 Artist-in-Residence at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation in Charlotte, NC.

In September 2014, Bailey partnered with students from Boys & Girls High School in Brooklyn to design and produce furniture to furnish a home for the Historic Hunterfly Road Houses. Sixty students, aged 14–17, designed three pieces for an imaginary couple moving into 21st century Brooklyn using recycled materials. Xenobia Bailey. n.d. Retrieved March 19, 2019, from)

In 2016, Xenobia Bailey created a large-scale glass mosaic at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for the New York City Subways 34th Street – Hudson Yards station. She named the piece Funktional Vibrations.


3. Collections

Her work is in the permanent collections at Harlems Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Allentown Art Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Arts and in the Museum of Arts and Design. Xenobia Bailey. n.d. Retrieved from)


4. Selected exhibitions


  • 2015: 34th St–Hudson Yards Station, Funktional Vibrations, Glass Mosaic, The Studio Museum in Harlem Permanent Installation 2015
  • 2002: Xenobia Bailey: Paradise Under Reconstruction in the Aesthetic of Funk - Phase IV January 18 - February 17
  • 2008: Jersey City Museum, Possessed, June 16 - August 24, 2008


  • 2015: Xenobia Bailey 1955, Seattle is one of the artists in the exhibition Fiber: Sculpture 1960–Present in ICA Boston, from October 1 till January 4, 2015. The exhibition also has a catalog in print form.