Simone Leigh

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Simone Leigh
Simone Leigh
Leigh in 2017
Born1967 (age 54–55)
Alma materEarlham College

Simone Leigh (born 1967) is an American artist from Chicago who works in New York City in the United States.[1] She works in various media including sculpture, installations, video, performance, and social practice. Leigh has described her work as auto-ethnographic, and her interests include African art and vernacular objects, performance, and feminism.[2] Her work is concerned with the marginalization of women of color and reframes their experience as central to society.[1][3] Leigh has often said that her work is focused on “Black female subjectivity,” with an interest in complex interplays between various strands of history.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Simone Leigh was born in 1967 in Chicago, Illinois to Jamaican missionaries.[5] She grew up on Chicago's South Side in a highly segregated neighborhood. Describing her childhood in an interview, Leigh stated "Everyone was black, so I grew up feeling like my blackness didn’t predetermine anything about me. It was very good for my self-esteem. I still feel lucky that I grew up in that crucible."[6]

Leigh attended Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana; she received a BA in Art with a minor in Philosophy in 1990.[7][8]


"I came to my artistic practice via the study of philosophy, cultural studies, and a strong interest in African and African American art, which has imbued my object and performance-based work with a concern for the ethnographic, especially the way it records and describes objects."[9]

After graduating, Leigh planned to become a social worker. After an internship at the National Museum of African Art and stint at a studio near Charlottesville, Virginia, she embraced art as a career. In 2015 she remarked "I tried not to be an artist for a really long time but at a certain point I realized I was not going to stop doing it."[2]

Leigh combines her training in American ceramics with an interest in African pottery, using African motifs which tend to have modernist characteristics. Though she considers herself to be primarily a sculptor, she recently has been involved in social sculpture, or social practice work that engages the public directly.[9] Her objects often employ materials and forms traditionally associated with African art, and her performance-influenced installations create spaces where historical precedent and self-determination co-mingle.[9] She describes this combination representing "a collapsing of time."[10] Her work has been described as part of a generation's reimagining of ceramics in a cross-disciplinary context.[11] She has given artist lectures in many institutions nationally[12][13][14] and internationally, and has taught in the ceramics department of the Rhode Island School of Design.[15]

Leigh lecturing in 2013

In October 2020, Leigh was selected to represent the United States at the 2022 Venice Biennale.[16] She is the first black woman to do so. She was awarded a Golden Lion for her work Brick House in the main exhibition.[17]

Works and critical reception[edit]

Leigh working in her studio

Leigh has exhibited internationally including: MoMA PS1, Walker Art Center, Studio Museum in Harlem, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, The Hammer Museum, The Kitchen, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, Tilton Gallery, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, SculptureCenter, Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna, L'appartement 22 in Rabat, Morocco, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and the Association for Visual Arts Gallery in Cape Town, South Africa.[18] Leigh organized an event with a group of women artists, who performed in "Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter" part of her solo exhibition, The Waiting Room at the New Museum in 2016.[19][20] Leigh's work was selected among "the most important and relevant work" by curators Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley for the 2019 Whitney Biennial.[21][5]

During her residency at the New Museum, Leigh founded an organization called Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter (BWAforBLM), a collective formed in direct response to the murder of Philando Castille, and in protest against other similar injustices against black lives.[9]

Simone Leigh is the creator of the Free People's Medical Clinic a social practice project created with Creative Time in 2014.[22] A reenactment of the Black Panther Party's initiative of the same name.[9] The installation was located in a 1914 Bed-Stuy brownstone called the Stuyvesant Mansion, previously owned by notable African-American doctor Josephine English (1920–2011). As an homage to this history, Leigh created a walk-in health center with yoga, nutrition and massage sessions, staffed by volunteers in 19th-century nurse uniforms.[23]

She is the recipient of many awards, including: a Guggenheim Fellowship; the Venice Biennale Golden Lion (2022); The Herb Alpert Award; a Creative Capital grant; a Blade of Grass Fellowship; the Studio Museum in Harlem's Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize; the Guggenheim Museum's Hugo Boss Prize; United States Artists fellowship; and a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists award (2018).[24][25][26][27][28][29][30][31][32] She was named one of Artsy Editorial's "Most Influential Artists" of 2018.[33] Her work has been written about in many publications, including Art in America, Artforum, Sculpture Magazine, Modern Painters, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Small Axe, and Bomb magazine.[34][35][36][37][38][39]

Brick House[edit]

The Brick House sculpture's torso combines the forms of a skirt and a clay house while the sculpture's head is crowned with an afro framed by cornrow braids.[40] This 5,900-pound bronze bust is of a Black woman with a torso standing 16 feet high and 9 feet in diameter at its base.[40]Brick House is the inaugural commission for the High Line Plinth, a new landmark destination for major public artworks in New York City, and is part of a series of art installations that will rotate every eighteen months[41] and the first space on the High Line dedicated solely to new commissions of contemporary art.[4] The content of Leigh's sculpture directly contrasts the location in which it is sited in New York since it is situated where "glass-and-steel towers shoot up from among older industrial-era brick buildings, and where architectural and human scales are in constant negotiation."[40] In 2020, another original Brick House was permanently installed in another urban location (albeit surrounded by a patch of grass) at the key gateway to the University City campus of University of Pennsylvania (near corner of 34th Street and Woodland Walk adjacent to Penn's School of Design).[42] Brick House is the first piece in Leigh's Anatomy of Architecture collection, an ongoing body of work where the artist combines architectural forms from regions as varied as West Africa and the Southern United States with the human body.[43] Brick House combines a number of different architectural styles: "Batammaliba architecture from Benin and Togo, the teleuk dwellings[44] of the Mousgoum people of Cameroon and Chad, and the restaurant named Mammy's Cupboard located on US Highway 61 south of Natchez, Mississippi."[40]

The Waiting Room[edit]

The Waiting Room was exhibited at the New Museum in New York City from June to September 2016.[1] This exhibition honors Esmin Elizabeth Green, who died from blood clots after sitting in a waiting room of a Brooklyn hospital for 24 hours, and provides an alternative vision of health care shaped by female, African-American experience.[45] In an interview with the Guardian, Leigh says "obedience is one of the main threats to black women's health" and "what happened to Green is an example of the lack of empathy people have towards the pain of black women."[45] The Waiting Room involved public and private care sessions from different traditions of medicine such as herbalism, meditation rooms, movement studios, and other holistic approaches to healthcare. Outside of museum hours this exhibition became "The Waiting Room Underground" providing free, private workshops outside of the public eye, an homage to the healthcare work of the Black Panthers and the United Order of Tents.[45] Additionally this exhibition featured lectures; workshops on self-defense, home economics, and self-awareness; Taiko drumming lessons for LGBTQ youth, and summer internships with the museum for teens.[45] This work came after and is related to Leigh's previous project Free People's Medical Clinic (2014).[46]


Leigh is a recipient of the Venice Biennale Golden Lion (2022); the Studio Museum in Harlem's Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize (2017); John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (2016); Anonymous Was a Woman Award (2016); Herb Alpert Award in the Arts (2016); and A Blade of Grass Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art (2016).[9] Guggenheim Fellowship (2012), Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Award, Creative Capital Grantee, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's Micheal Richards Award (2012), Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant, Artist-in-Residence The Studio Museum in Harlem (2010–11), NYFA Fellowship, Art Matters Foundation Grant (2009), Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award (2018), The Hugo Boss Prize (2018) (a $100,000 award facilitated by the Guggenheim Museum that ranks among the world's top art prizes).[24][47][48][4]

Art market[edit]

From 2019 until 2021, Leigh was represented by Hauser & Wirth.[49] She previously worked with Luhring Augustine Gallery (2016–2019) and David Kordansky Gallery (2019).[50]

In 2022, Leigh’s life-size mixed media female head Birmingham (2012) was sold for a record $2.2 million at Sotheby’s in New York.[51]

Selected exhibitions[edit]

"Sovereignty" by Simone Leigh for the United States Pavilion of the 59th Venice Biennale 2022
  • 2001 – SMIRK, Women, Art and Humor, curated by Debra Wacks, Firehouse Gallery, Hempstead, New York[52]
  • 2001 – Curated by Lea K. Green, Rush Arts Gallery, New York, New York[52]
  • 2002 – The Center for African American Art and NOEL Gallery, Charlotte, North Carolina[52]
  • 2003 – The Nathan Cummings Foundation, New York, New York[52]
  • 2003 – Skylight gallery, Bedford Styvesant Restoration Corporation, Brooklyn, New York[52]
  • 2004 – Baltimore Clayworks, Baltimore, Maryland[52]
  • 2004 – Steuben Gallery, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York[52]
  • 2004 – Art Downtown: Connecting Collections, for the Deutsche Bank, New York, New York[52]
  • 2005 – Watershed Kiln Gods, Gallery 1448, Baltimore, Maryland[52]
  • 2005 – Momenta Art Gallery, Brooklyn, New York (solo)[52]
  • 2005 – James E Lewis Museum of Art, Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland[52]
  • 2005 – The Cathedral of St. John the Divine and LeRoy Neiman Gallery, curated by Bruce W. Ferguson and Milena Honigsberg, Columbia University, New York, New York[52]
  • 2005 – Remnants and Relics: Reinterpretations in African American Art, curated by Heng-Gil Han, Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, Queens, New York[52]
  • 2005 – From the Studio: Wish You Were Here..., curated by Franklin Sirmans, Co-dependent: Artists, Artist/Curators, & Curators Select Artists @ The Living Room, Miami, Florida[52]
  • 2006 – Figures of Thinking: Convergences in Contemporary Cultures, curated by Vicky Clark and Sandhini Poddar, various venues including The Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, Illinois, Richard E. Peeler Art Center, De Pauw University, Greencastle, Indiana Western Gallery, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington, The Mc Dounough Museum of Art, Youngstown, Ohio, Tufts University Gallery, Medford, Massachusetts and the Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art, University of Richmond, Richmond, Virginia, (with catalog)[52]
  • 2006 – Brooklyn Divas, Corridor Gallery, Brooklyn, New York[52]
  • 2006 – AIR exhibition, Henry Street Settlement, Abrons Art Center, New York, New York[52]
  • 2006 – Wild Girls, curated by Jodi Hanel, Sarah Ryhanen, and Juana Gallo, EXIT ART, New York, New York[52]
  • 2007 – Defensive Mechanisms (part of INTERSECTIONS) Henry Street Settlement, curated by Martin Dust, Abrons Art Center, New York, New York[52]
  • 2007 – Visual Jury, Fine Art Work Center, Provincetown, Massachusetts[52]
  • 2007 – Done by the Forces of Nature, curated by Roberto Visani, City of College of New York, New York, New York[52]
  • 2007 – Red Badge of Courage, curated by Omar Lopez-Chahoud, Newark Council for the Arts, Newark, New York[52]
  • 2007 – Material Culture, curated by Juanita Lonzos, Longwood Art Gallery @ Hostos, Bronx, New York[52]
  • 2008 – Scratching The Surface, curated by Gabi Ngcobo, AVA Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa[52]
  • 2008 – Rush Arts Gallery Project Space, New York, New York (solo)[52]
  • 2008 – B-Sides, curated by Edwin Ramoran, ALIJIRA, Newark, New Jersey[52]
  • 2008 – Intransit, curated by Omar Chadoud-Lopez, Moti Hasson Gallery, New York, New York[52]
  • 2008 – The Future As Disruption, curated by Rashida Bumbray and Matthew Lyons, The Kitchen, New York, New York[52]
  • 2008 – Ethnographies of the Future, curated by Sara Reisman, Rotunda Gallery, Brooklyn, New York[52]
  • 2009 – G Fine Art Project Room, Washington, D.C. (solo)[52]
  • 2009 – In Practice, Sculpture Center, Queens, New York (solo)[52]
  • 2009 – Pulse, curated by Fernando Salicrup and Christine Licata, Taller Boricua, New York[52]
  • 2009 – AIM 29, Bronx Museum, curated by Micaela Giovannotti, Bronx, New York[52]
  • 2009 – The Pleasure of Hating, curated by David Hunt, Lisa Cooley Fine Art, New York, New York[52]
  • 2009 – Rockstone and Bootheel: Contemporary West Indian Art, curated by Kristina Newman-Scott and Yona Backer, Real Art Ways, Hartford, Connecticut[52]
  • 2009 – 30 seconds off an inch, curated by Naomi Beckwith, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, New York[52]
  • 2009 – HERD THINNER, Curated by David Hunt, Charest-Weinberg Gallery, Miami, Florida [52]
  • 2016 – Hammer Projects: Simone Leigh, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, California[53]
  • 2016 – Psychic Friends Network, Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom[54]
  • 2016 – The Waiting Room, the New Museum, New York, New York[55]
  • 2018 – Simone Leigh, Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York, New York[56]
  • 2019 – Loophole of Retreat, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York[57]
  • 2020 – Simone Leigh, David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, California[58]


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  22. ^ Davis, Samara. 2015. "Room for Care." TDR: The Drama Review 59, no. 4: 169–176.
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  26. ^ "Creative Capital - Investing in Artists who Shape the Future". Retrieved 2017-02-10.
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  30. ^ Battaglia, Andy (2018-10-18). "Simone Leigh Wins the 2018 Hugo Boss Prize". ARTnews. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  31. ^ Greenberger, Alex (2019-01-22). "United States Artists Names 2019 Fellows, Including Firelei Báez, Wu Tsang, and Cecilia Vicuña". ARTnews. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  32. ^ "Who Is the Activist Sculptor Simone Leigh? Here Are 5 Things to Know About This Year's Hugo Boss Prize Winner". artnet News. 2018-10-19. Retrieved 2019-09-06.
  33. ^ "The Most Influential Artists of 2018". Artsy. 2018-12-17. Retrieved 2020-08-11.
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  36. ^ Puleo, Risa (June 2016). ""Simone Leigh" Modern Painters". Modern Painters.
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  39. ^ "BOMB Magazine — Simone Leigh by Malik Gaines". Retrieved 2017-03-12.
  40. ^ a b c d "Brick House". The High Line. Retrieved 2020-02-29.
  41. ^ "Brick House".
  42. ^ "Towering bronze sculpture installed at the entrance to Penn's campus".
  43. ^ Dale, Gregory (2020), "The artist turned criminal: emotional obstacles to severing the body from the body of work", Research Handbook on Art and Law, Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 368–387, doi:10.4337/9781788971478.00039, ISBN 978-1-78897-147-8, S2CID 213486501
  44. ^ "Types of Musgu Dwellings: Domed Hut (Teleuk) and Delemiy".
  45. ^ a b c d Sayej, Nadja (2016-06-29). "Simone Leigh's The Waiting Room: art that tries to heal black women's pain". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  46. ^ "Simone Leigh "The Waiting Room"". Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  47. ^ Pogrebin, Robin; Sheets, Hilarie M. (2018-08-29). "An Artist Ascendant: Simone Leigh Moves Into the Mainstream". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-02-29.
  48. ^ "John Simon Guggenheim Foundation | Simone Leigh". Retrieved 2020-02-29.
  49. ^ Alex Greenberger (October 29, 2021), Simone Leigh Departs Hauser & Wirth Ahead of Venice Biennale Pavilion ARTnews.
  50. ^ Alex Greenberger (January 17, 2020), Simone Leigh, Sculptor with a Focus on ‘Black Female Subjectivity,’ Heads to Hauser & Wirth ARTnews.
  51. ^ Scott Reyburn (19 May 2022), Spring Auction Sales for Two Blockbuster Weeks Top $2.5 Billion New York Times.
  52. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak "Simone Leigh Biography – Simone Leigh on artnet". Retrieved 2020-02-29.
  53. ^ "Hammer Projects: Simone Leigh". Retrieved 21 February 2017.
  54. ^ "Psychic Friends Network with Simone Leigh". Retrieved 21 February 2017.
  55. ^ "Simone Leigh: The Waiting Room". Retrieved 2016-12-10.
  56. ^ "Simone Leigh - Exhibitions - Luhring Augustine". Retrieved 2019-03-11.
  57. ^ "Hugo Boss Prize 2018: Simone Leigh". Guggenheim. 2018-06-19. Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  58. ^ "Artists — Simone Leigh - Hauser & Wirth". Retrieved 2020-08-11.

External links[edit]