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Art AND: Aliana Grace Bailey

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Aliana Grace Bailey grew up in a creative household, guided by her mother’s repeated phrase, “Find your life’s passion, make your life’s work, and give back to others.” As a child, she saved things—cotton balls, sticks and fabric—as well as found objects. Her parents gave her full reign over her childhood room.

“My bedroom was spray painted on the ceiling and had things hanging down,” she says. “I had lots of posters, lots of paintings— I had complete creative control in my bedroom, so it was a nice little studio setup.” These materials have come full circle in her interdisciplinary practice today where she frequently employs yarns and cotton fabrics into large and vibrant tapestries.

Bailey is a curious person and a lifelong scholar who has earned degrees and certificates in art, social work, and teaching before most recently completing her MFA in Community Arts at MICA in 2020. A D.C. native, the artist has moved around the DMV frequently since graduate school and will complete a residency at Elsewhere in Greensboro, NC later this year and was just named a 2023 Sondheim Semifinalist last week.

While her textile work feels like the natural destination for her childhood obsession with material, Bailey has only been weaving for the past year or so. Spurred by a short workshop she took in New York, she decided it was true love and started making her own frame looms. But even as she taught others to make frame looms, she realized that it wasn’t scratching the same itch as the larger floor loom she had used in the New York workshop. Soon she bought her own floor loom and started making a new body of work.

 

a loving home lessons on love weavings, photo: Aliana Grace Bailey
Woven works in Music That Raised Us, Black Artist Research Space, Baltimore

Last year, Bailey participated in a two person show, “Music That Raised Us” at Black Artist Research Space which was reviewed for this magazine by Teri Henderson. The scale and vibrant colors of the wall-sized weavings are in conversation with the history of abstract expressionist painting. Bailey made them while listening to her father’s records on repeat and it’s a body of work still very much on the artist’s mind months later, not just because of the countless hours spent in productive meditation.

She explains the pieces are “very intuitive, so I didn’t plan any of it. I wanted to make sure whatever comes out of it is coming from the music that I was listening to.” Also critical to that body of work is the site specificity the weavings take on. Bailey considers her work to be “reactive” and believes the weavings function differently depending on the venue in which they are shown. Woven textile is built row by row, the work appearing and then disappearing into the loom, a process that the artist enjoys the spontaneity of and above all else, the repetition of. For Bailey, the repetitive motion is soothing and she remains “happy I was able to fall in love with it.”

For the artist, making her work is a vulnerable and somewhat private moment of therapy but exhibiting her personal work is about giving to her community. She explains while creating the weavings, “I’m being vulnerable and it’s about me when I’m doing it but once I put it out into the world, it inspires other people to share those moments of intimacy and love with the people that they love.” Her favorite moments of sharing her work have been when members of the public have come up to her after and thanked her for showing them something about the human condition they needed to acknowledge for themselves.

Bailey identifies as an entrepreneur who is always working on multiple projects. In 2023 she is moving on from ten years of freelance graphic design work to explore making functional weaving and color consultations through her newly established business, Vibrant Grace Studio. On Zoom, Bailey and I discussed being reformed perfectionists, the history of color in the Black community and how she’s finding new ways to connect in the next stage of the pandemic.

SUBJECT: Aliana Grace Bailey
PLACE: Zoom
AGE: 31
WEARING: Yellow woven dress with embroidered floral design purchased in Thailand

Artist in her studio, portrait by Justin Tsucalas
all about love by bell hooks on Aliana's studio table Photo credit: Danielle Finney
Community art is successful when it's human centered and creates impact.
Aliana Grace Bailey

Suzy Kopf: What is the most important book (or books) you’ve read or are reading?

Aliana Grace Bailey:  all about love by bell hooks is my favorite. The study of love is a personal joy. I love love. It grounds my practice. I love how bell hooks explores love through words in a way that most can digest, connect to, and be called to build or rebuild their own definition of love. The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management by Hyrum W. Smith was a game changer for me when I wanted to explore how to make my values better align with how I spend my time through mindset shifts. The Body is Not an Apology is another favorite.

I’m currently reading Energetic Boundaries: How to Stay Protected and Connected in Work, Love, and Life by Cyndi Dale.

How would you describe your personal style in five words?

Comfy, simplistic, bright, and statement earrings.

Community is very important in your work and you attended the MFA in Community Arts program at MICA, graduating in 2020. In a nutshell, how do you see art functioning as a way to serve the community?  Also, what makes a good community art piece?

Art functions as a way of teaching, healing, inspiring, disrupting, and archiving. The artist gets to decide its purpose, as do the viewers. Art builds intimacy. It has the ability to bring people together who otherwise wouldn’t have connected. It opens us up. It can change our views. It breaks barriers. Art creates important conversations and inspires people to act. Art uncovers stories and helps those stories live forever. It tells the stories of our past, present, and the possibilities of the future.

In the community art sphere especially, art and artists can also unknowingly be exploited as a tool to distract, add harm, and serve a function that may not align with us. I think many artists experience this at least once and it’s a hard lesson. It helps shape our discretion, boundaries, and guidelines of our practice.

Communities know what is best for them. For me, a successful community art piece is one that brings joy and fulfills a purpose to the community that it’s meant to center. In my work, this can unfold in a variety of ways. In many cases, it’s a piece that the community is deeply involved in from the beginning to the end and can feel proud of. It’s one that has the freedom to change shape based on the community’s needs and vision.

Community art is about meeting people where they are, lifting up their gifts, listening to their voices, and embracing the collective experience—rather than an artist making the decisions. I love witnessing the joy that is released when people create. Community art is successful when it’s human centered and creates impact.

 

Stack of a variety of fabrics hand-dyed while at MASS MoCA residency Photo credit: Aliana Grace Bailey

Thinking about the formal qualities of your work, color is consistently an important visual reference, can you speak more about that?

Color is super special to me. I’ve unintentionally built a color scheme since college and that’s what people know me for. It’s evolved over the years, but you can still see the consistency. My color practice is spiritual. They’re the colors that give me joy. They’re the colors that give me peace. They guide me.

In recent years, I’ve gotten intentional about challenging my color practice. I decided that if it’s what people love about me, if it’s what’s recognizable in my art, let’s commit to growth and being the best I can with it. At this phase in my career, I’m most focused on questions: How does a color impact the space in a room? How many times can I express the color teal? What impact does color have on human behavior? How can I stretch myself through these colors? What happens if I narrow my focus and go monochromatic? Will people be able to recognize my work if I break away from my color scheme? I’ve been breaking out of my comfort zone with color since 2022.

Most recently with the music weavings series, those terrified me. One reason is because there are a lot of colors in there I’ve never used before. It was really a question of “What if I don’t know color as well as I think I do? What if I just know my colors well?” For that series, I was choosing colors based off of the vinyl artwork. I don’t plan any of my weavings; they are all completely intuitive. I just had to trust that they would come off the loom strong. It felt like a risk. All my weavings feel risky, but the color challenge specifically created breakthroughs and spiritual expansion.

Other times I’ll choose colors based off of a person who is inspiring it. The piece I installed at the MLK Library in Washington, D.C.—an 18 foot long weaving that is primarily blue. That was inspired by my mom, my grandmother, and their connection to the color blue— our ancestral connection to the color blue. When I choose colors, I’m either trying to really commit to understanding color, I’m pulling inspiration from a relationship that I have or I’m pulling inspiration from a story.

 

Installation close-up shot of Aliana Grace Bailey’s “blue: ancestral healing” at MLK Library, Photo credit: Vivian Marie Doering

As much as you’re comfortable with sharing, could you tell me specifically about your family’s ancestral relationship with the color blue?

Weaving is a practice of healing my ancestral line. Blue flows throughout our entire home—inside and out. It feels sacred and often shows up in the form of glass. When I first asked my mom why she’s so drawn to the color blue she replied, “I am spiritually drawn to it.” She loves history and Black literature. She became fascinated with bottle trees and “haint blue” used by Gullah Geechee. In Africa, blue is the color of harmony and love—symbolizing the importance of peace and togetherness, which is a family value my mom holds close to her heart.

Water and its healing power has been a recurring theme in my work since 2013 when my grandmother passed. ​​She used to silently sit on her deck and watch the rain fall.

Do you pursue any hobbies in addition to your studio practice? Do you think that these hobbies or collections have any influence or impact on your work or do you view them more as a stress relief or way to unwind?

I often say I need a hobby. I have a hard time figuring out where hobbies begin and end for me. Anything creative ends up a part of my studio practice. I would consider photography a hobby. I love taking photographs while traveling.

I make sure to create space for myself through journaling, yoga, and spiritual practices. I think of my self-care practices as a part of my work. It’s essential to my process. It’s what my subject matter is all about. It’s how I’m able to show up and produce. I think of it all as a part of my art practice.

Before I decided to become an artist, I was an athlete for a long time. Track was a passion of mine for 10 years and I’ve been skiing practically all my life. I’d like to (soon) create more space for my athletic + fitness joys consistently.

Do you have a favorite local restaurant or a go-to order? What is it?

My favorite go-to order is definitely My Mamas Vegan’s big mac.

You hand dye the fabric you use in your weavings, can you talk about why that aspect is important to you?

Connection. I want my hands in as much as the process as possible. I love the feeling of being proud of the colors I dyed. I am very selective about color and it’s essential to my work, so becoming an expert in color is valuable to me. I want to be able to depend on myself to create the colors I need.

I want to feel connected with my materials. I typically don’t want to use widely manufactured fabric in my work unless it has a special story for me.

For yarn, I don’t have the capacity to hand dye it (yet). In the meantime, I support small woman-owned businesses who love fiber as much as I love fiber. I have a couple go-to spots in Baltimore. When I was in Massachusetts for my residency at MASS MoCA, I was able to find one local yarn shop. I enjoy being able to talk to people who can tell me about the process of making the yarn.

 

Would you say the art making process is inherently therapy for you? Are the two connected at all or is art separate? How are you extending that therapy to others as well?

All of my work is grounded in intimacy and love. It’s very much about self love and processing my inner world. And it’s also about inspiring self love for other people. I use my art as a vehicle to become a better person, silence my fears, process grief, and connect deeper to the people I love. That’s the basis of my work.

With the music weavings, a part of my purpose for that is to build a deeper connection with my dad. I wanted to spend more time with my dad, create more time and space for moments I can cherish forever. So I do it through my art. I create the opportunities I want to have more time for. That’s healing for me. There’s something healing about being able to create work about the people that you love so that they feel celebrated and honored while they’re here, while they can experience it. That’s healing for me.

I have a lot of anxiety around making sure the people I love are cared for, making sure I can find enough time to be with them. So a healing practice for me is making work about them and making work inspired by them. I sit with my greatest flaws and challenges through my work. My work is about acceptance, having faith, and embracing things as they come.

My Black Goddess Tribute installation in 2017, which gave gratitude to all the Black women in my life was the piece that confirmed my purpose and made me realize the impact of my work. It was my first time witnessing and feeling such a wide range of emotions and actions brought on by my work.

I’m extending therapy to others by standing in my own vulnerability, holding space for others to feel comfortable, creating art experiences that resonate with their emotions, and by continuing to equip myself with the education and tools to create healing. I started as an Artist-in-Residence with Roberta’s House, a family grief support center in Baltimore in 2018 and I’ve been engaged ever since as a volunteer. My passion for providing grief support opens up a world of very important healing. My social work degree is often calling me to explore new ways to put it into practice—I’ll definitely be expanding my healing centered skill sets and offerings in the future.

 

Aliana Grace Bailey cozy at her floor loom, Photo credit: Danielle Finney

You’ve been teaching weaving lately. Can you tell me a little bit about what it’s like to teach and what you hope to impart to your students?

I get so much joy from teaching. My hope is to inspire my students to release expectations, trust themselves, build connections, and trust the beauty that comes out of the experience. That is what grounds my personal practice and that’s what grounds my teaching too. I believe in a balance between striving for excellence and striving for joy.

I think to reach that balance you have to first knock down the walls that the outside world forces us to put up. And at least for me, you have to do it regularly. We have to get out of our heads and into our bodies, and often. We have to do some work to unpack the things that block us from feeling free enough to create. I love my students to walk away with not only new skills but also a sense of comfort, elevated self-esteem, and awareness.

One of my recent workshop testimonials read, “Aliana is soft-spoken and approachable by participants of all ages. She is a great communicator about her process, and meets participants where we are in terms of our art knowledge. She incorporates a lot of hands on, hearts on teaching techniques.” That truly captures what I want to be loved for as a teacher—being myself.

Do you believe in astrology and if so, what insights can your signs give our readers into your personality and mindset?

I’m a Sagittarius sun. Leo rising. Capricorn moon. I’m passionate, ambitious, and playful. I’m free spirited and I also like stability. I’m strong willed, which is amazing in many ways and not so great in other ways. lol. I also get drained quickly.

What are the last three emojis you used? Have you given up emojis?

My last three are 😭 🥰 💕. I’ve been very much committed to my flower emojis for years now—a lot of people associate them with my brand and I don’t plan on giving them up 🌸🌷🌺🌻.

What would your teenage self think about the direction of your life so far? Is there anything you’d say to younger you if you could visit yourself Back to the Future style?

My teenage self would be excited, emotional, and impressed. She would be proud that the way she feels internally is radiated out into the physical world. My teenage self—quiet and introverted, would be amazed at my confidence and accomplishments, while always remaining true to who I am. She would be excited that I’m creating things she used to be drawn to and dream about.

If there’s anything I’d say to my younger self, it would be to trust your nature. The things that make you feel different from everyone else, the things you’ve been made to feel penalized for are not things that need to change, they are not hurdles to overcome, they are not things to grow out of or flaws to be fixed. Your shell is not something you need to come out of—it protects your magic. Your quiet is powerful. Your energy is soft and healing. You can be both subtle and impactful. You don’t have to be anything more than what you already are to be influential.

Artist Website: https://www.alianagracebailey.com/homeintro

Business Website: https://www.vibrantgracestudio.com/

 

Thailand travel photography by Aliana Grace Bailey

A Studio Visit and Interview with a DC-based artist and MICA MFA Graduate in love with weaving and color

This story is from Issue 14: Environment, available here.

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