Herman Bailey

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Herman "Kofi" Bailey
Kofi Bailey Signature.jpg
Bailey's signature
Born Herman Bailey
(1931-11-28)November 28, 1931
Chicago, Illinois
Died April 27, 1981(1981-04-27) (aged 49)
Nationality American
Education Alabama State College, University of Southern California
Movement Pan-Africanism
Patron(s) Maya Angelou, James Early, Samella Lewis

Herman "Kofi" Bailey (also known as Kofi X) (1931–1981) was an African-American artist.[1] He was best known for his conté and charcoal drawings reflecting of the African-American experience.[2][3]

Personal life[edit]

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Bailey grew up in Los Angeles, California.[2][4] He received his education from Alabama State College and then attended Howard University where he studied under Alain Locke, Sterling Brown and James A. Porter.[2] He obtained his MFA at the University of Southern California.[4][5] At Alabama he received commissions for large paintings and murals as a student. He was described as a "black bohemian" at the time, often seen wearing a beret, talking jive, carrying a bottle "in one pocket" and talking about music and art.[5]

While living in Atlanta his studio space was located at the Institute of the Black World's second building. He lived at Paschal's Motor Lodge Hotel, where if he was unable to make rent he would trade artwork with one of the Paschal brothers in exchange. Bailey spoke with slurred speech, which was due to his heavy use of drugs and alcohol. Bailey was described as taking pills then drinking, spending his money on "a full pint of scotch" or vodka.[5][6] Herman "Kofi" Bailey died in 1981 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Professional career[edit]

"Kofi Bailey's art revealed the historical antecedents of black freedom struggles and emphasized the people-centered force of the black political and cultural movements of that period." - James Early, 1998[5]

His work and illustrations have been described as "...Combining both geometric and figural elements, he often used massive shapes to surround the sensitively rendered figures that serve as focal points for most of his compositions." Geometric forms are often make up the background, as if to appear emerging from it. Bailey usually used charcoal or conté as a medium, experimenting with oil and acrylic painting as well. Sometimes he used three to four mediums in an artwork and color often took a secondary role in his work, preferring to rely on earth tones.[3]

Bailey was influenced by artists such as Goya, Rico Lebrun, Jacob Lawrence and Charles White. He described himself in 1967 as a "representational" artist "rather than "abstract" because his work is committed to the masses who, he feels, "want to see art that deals with man, art which tries to express the varying moods of man; and man is my principal concern.""[4]

In 1967 Bailey was artist-in-residence at Spelman College which held an exhibition about Bailey's work that was created while he was living in Ghana in 1962–1966.

Political and racial themes[edit]

Poster created by Bailey for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Poor People's Campaign, 1968

His artwork often reflected influences of Pan-Africanism. Portraits of Kwame Nkrumah often appeared, with Nkrumah, then President of Ghana, depicted as a heroic figure in front of a black star.[7] While living in Ghana he served as an art teacher and the artist-in-residence to Nkrumah until the leader was deposed in 1966.[5] Bailey also covered other areas of the African-American experience such as Black Power, anticolonialism, and African-American civil rights.[5]

Black women and children often made frequent appearances as well. These socially aware and often politically charged artworks reflected the racism experienced by Africans and African Americans primarily in the 20th century. The stark contrast of the black inks or charcoals on white paper at times dramatizes the conflicts of blacks and whites. His work is commonly found in art and literature about the Civil Rights Movement .[5]

While living in Atlanta he created posters for the H. Rap Brown Center, a venue that was frequented by members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).[5] Eventually he would create posters for and serve as newsletter illustrator for the SNCC.[8][9] After the Six-Day War, which Israel won, SNCC launched an anti-Zionist campaign featuring anti-Semitic images. Bailey created an illustration featuring an Israeli firing squad shooting a group of Arabs with a caption reading: "This is the Gaza Strip, Palestine, not Dachau, Germany". While some SNCC officers distanced themselves from the article and image, the SNCC's pro-Palestinian stand cut support from many Jewish organizations.[9][10]

Bailey continued to create at times controversial comics for SNCC including depictions of Moshe Dayan, believed by some to be stereotyping of Jewish financial dominance and by others as showing the financial dependencies between the US and Israeli military's.[11][12] The Palestine Problem, another comic by Bailey during this time, connects United States racial violence, military imperialism in Vietnam and the Arab world, and the Afro-Arab freedom struggle.[11]


James Early cites Kofi's work as a major influence, describing the illustrations by Bailey as "among the great, energizing artistic expressions created in the crucible of social justice activism and organizing that was Atlanta in the 1960s." Artist and art historian Floyd Coleman described Bailey as a rule breaker: "Although he didn't follow the rules he was committed to the struggle of African Americans and set a standard in his work that many of us tried to emulate."[5] Carmen Riddle described Bailey as "a genius, a pure genius at his art."[6]

Notable collections[edit]

Notable exhibitions[edit]

  • Showcase & Tell: Treasures from the Spelman College Permanent Collection, 2009, Spelman College, Atlanta
  • Tradition Redefined: The Larry and Brenda Thompson Collection of African American Art, 2009, University of Maryland, College Park
  • A Century of African American Art: The Paul R. Jones Collection, 2004, University of Delaware, Newark
  • Atlanta Collects, 2004, City Gallery East, Atlanta
  • Black Power/Black Art: and the struggle continues: Political Imagery from the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, 1994, San Francisco State University, San Francisco
  • African American Art in Atlanta: Public and Corporate Collections, 1984, High Museum of Art, Atlanta
  • A Memorial Exhibition, 1982, Spelman College, Atlanta
  • Highlights from the Atlanta University Collection of Afro-American Art, 1973, High Museum of Art, Atlanta
  • TCB, 1971, National Center of Afro-American Artists, Boston[1]


  1. ^ a b c "Bailey, Herman Kofi (a.k.a. Kofi X). (Chicago, IL, 1931-Atlanta, GA, 1981)". Artists. African American Visual Artists Database. Retrieved 18 April 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Digital Archive: Kofi Bailey". Digital Archive. Paul R. Jones Collection. Retrieved 12 April 2010. [permanent dead link]
  3. ^ a b Lewis, Samella (2003). African American Art and Artists. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-23935-0. 
  4. ^ a b c Fuller, H.W. "Editor's Notes." Negro Digest 16.9 (1967):4.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Early, James (1998). "Memories of Black Arts Spirits Kofi Bailey and Atlanta in the 1960s". The International Review of African American Art. 15 (1): 27–30. 
  6. ^ a b Karen Anne Mason (2000). "John Riddle". Oral History Program. University of California. Retrieved 18 April 2010. 
  7. ^ Wardlaw, Alvia (March 1990). Black Art: Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in African American Art. Abrams Books. ISBN 0-8109-3104-4. 
  8. ^ Henderson, Stephen (1970). "A Dedicatoin: Sterling Brown". The Negro Digest. Johnson Publishing Company. 19 (11): 10–11. Retrieved 18 April 2011. 
  9. ^ a b Levy, Richard (May 2005). Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-85109-439-4. 
  10. ^ Clayborne, Clay (April 1995). In Struggle : SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-44727-1. 
  11. ^ a b Feldman, Keith (1998). "Representing Permanent War: Black Power's Palestine and the End(s) of Civil Rights". CR: the New Centennial Review. 8 (2): 193–231. doi:10.1353/ncr.0.0035. 
  12. ^ Marable, Manning (August 2009). Black Routes to Islam. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1-4039-7781-X. 
  13. ^ "Hampton's Collections and Connections: A Unity of Art and Life". The International Review of African American Art. 20 (1): 5–31. 2005. 

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Britton, C. Selected essays: Art and artists from the Harlem renaissance to the 1980s. National Black Arts Festival, 1988. ISBN 0-9620644-0-8
  • City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. African American Artists in Los Angeles, a Survey Exhibition. Los Angeles: City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, 2009.
  • David C. Driskell Center. Tradition Redefined: The Larry and Brenda Thompson Collection of African American Art. College Park: David C. Driskell Center, 2009. ISBN 0-9819093-1-0
  • Henderson, S. (1970). A Dedication: Sterling Brown. The Negro Digest, 19 (11), 10-11. A poem inspired by a SNCC posted created by Bailey in 1962.