ART INDEX: Simone Leigh
Article by Bianca Mafodda (November 14th, 2022)
I spent the past weekend wandering around the pavilions of the 59th edition of the Venice Biennale. Making my way through the huge Giardini and Arsenale locations, not to mention the various events all around the city. I did my best to catch most of what was going on during this past weekend, to have a glimpse of the last days before the Biennale closes. One of the most anticipated artists, but also one that has left quite the impression on me, is the American Simone Leigh. Leigh was the only artist exhibited in the USA pavilion in the splendid Giardini venue. For the first time ever, a Black woman is dominating the American pavilion with a solo show, and she has really lived up to the hype around her work.
In 1990, Simone Leigh (1967, Chicago) received a BA in fine art from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana and has since been drawn to the traditional ceramic manufacture and technique. Another thing that she has always been interested in is the categorization and the historicization of the object associated with the African diaspora, something that she has been able to confront during her intern days at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington DC.
For this year’s USA Biennale pavilion, she was selected to represent the country with a series of figurative sculptures in bronze and ceramic that shine a light on her favorite subject, Black women, whose bodies she augments with her signature jug-like forms. Engaging with histories of Black emancipation, the artist uses premodern and contemporary sculptural techniques and has over the years developed a body of sculptures, installations, and videos that focus on race, beauty, femininity, inner spiritual-life and community. She draws upon the artistic African traditions and the African diaspora and has coined a strategy defined as “the creolization of form,” where she merges disparate cultural languages that are somehow connected by the histories of colonization. Her body of work is giving a platform to the labor and resilience of the Black female community throughout history.
One of the main works presented at the Biennale, this time in the central pavilion at the Arsenale, is the Brick House, which was also shown on the High Line in New York City in 2019 (figure below). It is a monumental bronze bust of a Black woman wearing a dress, whose skirt resembles a house, hence the title of the artwork. This piece is, in fact, part of the Anatomy of Architecture series, a project started in 2016 and still ongoing, which amalgamates architectural forms with the Black female body. These bodies are both generators of life and keepers at the same time, they are themselves homes and refuge, they are a site of multiplicity.
Simone Leigh, Brick House, 2019 - shown at the Central Pavillion of the Arnesale venue at the 59th edition of the Biennale di Venezia
Simone Leigh has, over the years, exhibited in the most prestigious sites in the US and around the world and her work has been getting more and more recognition. It wasn’t long before the art market would recognize this artist’s talent and value and her turnover has been quite impressive in the past couple of years, as you can see clearly by the image below.