Simone Leigh working on a sculpture
|Born||1967 (age 52–53)|
|Alma mater||Earlham College|
Simone Leigh (born 1967) is an American artist from Chicago who works in New York City in the United States. 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. Her work is concerned with the marginalization of women of color and reframes their experience as central to society. Leigh has often said that her work is focused on “Black female subjectivity,” with an interest in complex interplays between various strands of history.
Early life and education
"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."
The artist combines her training in American ceramics with an interest in African pottery, using African motifs which tend to have modernist characteristics. Though Leigh considers herself to be primarily a sculptor, she recently has been involved in social sculpture, or social practice work that engages the public directly. 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. She describes this combination representing "a collapsing of time." Her work has been described as part of a generation's reimagining of ceramics in a cross-disciplinary context. She has given artist lectures in many institutions nationally and internationally, and has taught in the ceramics department of the Rhode Island School of Design.
Works and critical reception
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. 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. Leigh's work was selected among "the most important and relevant work" by curators Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley for the 2019 Whitney Biennial.
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.
Simone Leigh is the creator of the Free People's Medical Clinic a social practice project created with Creative Time in 2014. A reenactment of the Black Panther Party's initiative of the same name. 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.
She is the recipient of many awards, including: a Guggenheim Fellowship; 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). She was named one of Artsy Editorial's "Most Influential Artists" of 2018. 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.
Brick House is a bronze bust of a Black woman with a torso standing at 16 feet tall and looks out over the raised outdoor park in New York. The sculptures torso combines the forms of a skirt and a clay house. The sculpture's head is crowned with an afro framed by cornrow braids. This is the first piece in Leigh's Anatomy of Architecture collection, an ongoing body of work in where the artist combines architectural forms from regions as varied as West Africa and the Southern United States with the human body. Brick House combines a number of different architectural styles: "Batammaliba architecture from Benin and Togo, the teleuk dwellings of the Mousgoum people of Cameroon and Chad, and the restaurant Mammy’s Cupboard in Natchez, Mississippi." The content of Leigh's sculpture contrasts the location it is in directly, as it is surrounded by "glass-and-steel towers shoot up from among older industrial-era brick buildings, and where architectural and human scales are in constant negotiation."
The Waiting Room
The Waiting Room was exhibited at the New Museum in New York City from June to September 2016. 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. 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." 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. 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. This work came after and is related to Leigh's previous project Free People's Medical Clinic (2014).
Leigh is a recipient of 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). 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).
This biographical article is written like a résumé. (November 2020)
- 2001 – SMIRK, Women, Art and Humor, curated by Debra Wacks, Firehouse Gallery, Hempstead, NY
- 2001 – Curated by Lea K. Green, Rush Arts Gallery, New York, NY
- 2002 – The Center for African American Art and NOEL Gallery, Charlotte, NC
- 2003 – The Nathan Cummings Foundation, New York, NY
- 2003 – Skylight gallery, Bedford Styvesant Restoration Corporation, Brooklyn, NY
- 2004 – Baltimore Clayworks, Baltimore, MD
- 2004 – Steuben Gallery, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY
- 2004 – Art Downtown: Connecting Collections, for the Deutsche Bank, New York, NY
- 2005 – Watershed Kiln Gods, Gallery 1448, Baltimore, MD
- 2005 – Momenta Art Gallery, Brooklyn, NY (solo)
- 2005 – James E Lewis Museum of Art, Morgan State University, Baltimore, MD
- 2005 – The Cathedral of St. John the Divine and LeRoy Neiman Gallery, curated by Bruce W. Ferguson and Milena Honigsberg, Columbia University, New York, NY
- 2005 – Remnants and Relics: Reinterpretations in African American Art, curated by Heng-Gil Han, Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, Queens, NY
- 2005 – From the Studio: Wish You Were Here..., curated by Franklin Sirmans, Co-dependent: Artists, Artist/Curators, & Curators Select Artists @ The Living Room, Miami, FL
- 2006 – Figures of Thinking: Convergences in Contemporary Cultures, curated by Vicky Clark and Sandhini Poddar, various venues including The Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL, Richard E. Peeler Art Center, De Pauw University, Greencastle, IN Western Gallery, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA, The Mc Dounough Museum of Art, Youngstown, OH, Tufts University Gallery, Medford, MA and the Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA, (with catalog)
- 2006 – Brooklyn Divas, Corridor Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
- 2006 – AIR exhibition, Henry Street Settlement, Abrons Art Center, New York, NY
- 2006 – Wild Girls, curated by Jodi Hanel, Sarah Ryhanen, and Juana Gallo, EXIT ART, New York, NY
- 2007 – Defensive Mechanisms (part of INTERSECTIONS) Henry Street Settlement, curated by Martin Dust, Abrons Art Center, New York, NY
- 2007 – Visual Jury, Fine Art Work Center, Provincetown, MA
- 2007 – Done by the Forces of Nature, curated by Roberto Visani, City of College of New York, New York, NY
- 2007 – Red Badge of Courage, curated by Omar Lopez-Chahoud, Newark Council for the Arts, Newark, NY
- 2007 – Material Culture, curated by Juanita Lonzos, Longwood Art Gallery @ Hostos, Bronx, NY
- 2008 – Scratching The Surface, curated by Gabi Ngcobo, AVA Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
- 2008 – Rush Arts Gallery Project Space, New York, NY (solo)
- 2008 – B-Sides, curated by Edwin Ramoran, ALIJIRA, Newark, NJ
- 2008 – Intransit, curated by Omar Chadoud-Lopez, Moti Hasson Gallery, New York, NY
- 2008 – The Future As Disruption, curated by Rashida Bumbray and Matthew Lyons, The Kitchen, New York, NY
- 2008 – Ethnographies of the Future, curated by Sara Reisman, Rotunda Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
- 2009 – G Fine Art Project Room, Washington, D.C. (solo)
- 2009 – In Practice, Sculpture Center, Queens, NY (solo)
- 2009 – Pulse, curated by Fernando Salicrup and Christine Licata, Taller Boricua, NY
- 2009 – AIM 29, Bronx Museum, curated by Micaela Giovannotti, Bronx, NY
- 2009 – The Pleasure of Hating, curated by David Hunt, Lisa Cooley Fine Art, New York, NY
- 2009 – Rockstone and Bootheel: Contemporary West Indian Art, curated by Kristina Newman-Scott and Yona Backer, Real Art Ways, Hartford, CT
- 2009 – 30 seconds off an inch, curated by Naomi Beckwith, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY
- 2009 – HERD THINNER, Curated by David Hunt, Charest-Weinberg Gallery, Miami, FL 
- 2016 – Hammer Projects: Simone Leigh, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA
- 2016 – Psychic Friends Network, Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom
- 2016 – The Waiting Room, the New Museum, New York, NY
- 2018 – Simone Leigh, Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York, NY
- 2019 – Loophole of Retreat, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY
- 2020 – Simone Leigh, David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
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