Chosen to represent the United States at the 59th Venice Biennal (23 April to 27 November 2022), US artist Simone Leigh will be the first Black woman ever to do so. The announcement came from The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA), in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
I encountered Leigh’s Brick House in the summer of 2019, in New York City. The monumental bronze sculpture was the final piece on the High Line, populated by travelers and local residents during the group exhibition High Line Art, curated by Cecilia Alemani—who is also on the ‘the first’ list, as she will be the first female Italian director of the Venice Biennale. Brick House is a 16-feet tall bust of a woman whose crown of afro hair is framed by the lines of cornrow braids: a commanding celebration of the beauty and strength of the Black woman in public space.
Born and raised in Chicago to a family of Jamaican missionaries, Leigh’s artistic practice is informed by her training in American ceramics, combined with her strong interest in African pottery, architecture and motifs as well as in feminist and post-colonial theories. These influences are manifested through her use of different media ranging from sculpture to performance, video to installations. A central theme in her work is the subjectivity of Black women and their marginalization. Leigh works on re-centering their stories and histories within societies.
On her participation at the 59th Biennale, the artist shared an emotional response on social media, revealing the body of work she will present: “To be the first Black American woman to occupy the American Pavilion for the 58th La Biennale di Venezia is a great honor. I acknowledge the paradox of my position during this time when the depth of white supremacy in America is in full view. I also recognize that this is a time when black artists and intellectuals of the diaspora are flourishing and have reached critical mass. My show, comprised primarily of sculpture, will engage the work of black feminist thinkers who have enlarged and transcended the limits of this democracy.”
Eva Respini, Barbara Lee Chief Curator at the ICA Boston, and curator of the US Pavillion alongside Jill Medvedow, Ellen Matilda Poss Director, stated: “Simone Leigh is one of the most gifted and respected artists working today. For the U.S. Pavilion, Leigh will create a series of new sculptures and installations that address what the artist calls an ‘incomplete archive’ of Black feminist thought, with works inspired by leading Black intellectuals. Her work insists on the centrality of Black female forms within the cultural sphere, and serves as a beacon in our moment.”
Main image | Simon Leigh at Stratton Sculpture Studios in Philadelphia, 2020 © Simone Leigh. Photo by Shaniqwa Jarvis, via Hauser and Wirth
This post is also available in: it