Grant Recipients Grants to Artists Visual Arts 2018

Simone Leigh

A black and white portrait of Simone Leigh, with her hair locked and wearing a patterned necklace and black top.
Photo by Paul Mpagi Sepuya.

Because of [FCA's] support, none of [my upcoming exhibitions] have delayed my goal of building a studio in Philadelphia that can support my work in sculpture. For years I have been compromised and unable to make the work of my dreams. I am limited both by the size of the studio and the size of the kiln for objects I want to manufacture... Hopefully I will break ground on the studio this year.

- Simone Leigh, January 18, 2019

Biography

Simone Leigh's diverse practice incorporates sculpture, video, and installation, all informed by her ongoing exploration of black female subjectivity and ethnography. 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. Through her investigation of visual overlaps between cultures, time periods, and geographies, she confronts and examines ideas of the female body, race, beauty, and community.

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. For the Creative Time supported exhibition Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn (2014), Leigh installed a free clinic in Brooklyn called the Free People's Medical Clinic, a reenactment of the Black Panther Party's initiative of the same name. Leigh revisited the idea of the free clinic in her exhibition The Waiting Room at the New Museum, New York (2016), in which she shifted the subject from medicine and medical apartheid to focus more squarely on forms of knowledge and ritual that offer healing and support self-defense. On the days the museum was closed to the public, Leigh conducted Home Economics, a project in which twenty teenage girls received weekly instruction in herbal medicine, Taiko drumming, and dance. During her four-day exhibition Psychic Friends Network (2016) at Tate Exchange at the Tate Modern, London, Leigh collaborated with a number of other artists, including Lorraine O'Grady and choreographer/performer Rashida Bumbray, to extend the ideas around medicine to include communication with one's ancestors. Leigh's other projects and exhibitions include Trigger: Gender as a Tool and as a Weapon at the New Museum, New York (2017); inHarlem, a public installation presented in Marcus Garvey Park by The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2017); and a solo exhibition at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2016-17).

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. On September 1st, 2017, the members of BWAforBLM, including Leigh, occupied the New Museum's Lobby, Facade, 5th and 7th Floors, and Theater for four hours, engaging in dialogue, healing workshops, and performances. Leigh has since curated a round at Project Row Houses in Houston's Third Ward, where BWAforBLM was the artist exhibited across all seven art houses of the organization.

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). She holds a B.A. from Earlham College.

Artist Statement

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. This has led me, more recently, to a study of the vernacular architectures of west and southern Africa—styles, technologies, and forms that have been appropriated by Western art, architecture, and design—as a means of disrupting our understanding of the linearism, geography, and genesis of Modernism. As an artist, African art and vernacular objects are a means of exploring a multitude of themes, particularly the notion of women's work, authorship, anonymity, and other ways in which we perceive culture and value. My sculptural concerns have evolved to include a vocabulary of objects, where I consider how meaning might be transferred onto an object.

- December 2017

A small black statue of a figure with a round bottom under the neck, with almond shaped textures. On the head of the figure colorful rose buds cover the whole surface.

Basse Terre, 2017, fired clay, porcelain, resin, India Ink, 33" x 18" x 18." Photo by Farzad Owrang. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

A statue sideways to the viewer is covered on the face by a halo of rose buds. Under the neck balancing on its shoulders a straw skirt covers the bottom.

No Face (House), 2017, terracotta, porcelain, ink, raffia, 24" x 22" x 22." Photo by Farzad Owrang. Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Image of hay straws forming a silhouette similar to that of a hoop skirt. On top of it a wooden brown statue with a round head an no features.

FCA-supported Cupboard VIII, 2018. © Simone Leigh; Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Image of hay straws forming a silhouette similar to that of a hoop skirt.

Cupboard VIII, 2016, steel, raffia, and audio, 146" x 152." Photo by Farzad Owrang. Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Load-shaped round house structures with black walls and a straw triangle roof in a park with green grass and trees.

Installation view, A particularly elaborate imba yokubikira, or kitchen house, stands locked up while its owners live in diaspora, in the exhibition in Harlem: Simone Leigh, Marcus Garvey Park, New York, presented by the Studio Museum of Harlem, 2016-17. Photo by Farzad Owrang. Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

A cylindrical black statue with its middle carved in a face.

FCA-supported Woman with T-Shirt-Face Jug, 2018. © Simone Leigh; Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

The silver statue of a figure crouching down on a wall with the features above the shoulders disappearing on the wall.

Dunham II, 2017, terracotta, graphite, and steel, 41 1/2" x 22" x 23." Photo by Farzad Owrang. Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Three round structures consisting of smaller oval shapes hang from a ceiling. The structure in the front closest to the viewer contains silver and orange metallic ovals with antennae stuck on them. The structure behind the first holds marbled white ovals. The third structure farthest from the viewer to the left holds red ovals illuminated by blue colors.

Installation view of You Don't Know Where Her Mouth Has Been, The Kitchen, New York, 2012. Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

A structure containing silver and orange metallic ovals with antennae stuck on them hangs from the ceiling through multiple strings.

trophallaxis, 2009-17, terracotta, porcelain, epoxy, graphite, and antennas, dimensions variable. Photo by Farzad Owrang. Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Figure in a glittery silver apron and a white shells necklace stands behind a counter with three jars in front of them containing seeds and petals. Behind them a wall of white sacks and a blackboard.

Installation view of Simone Leigh: The Waiting Room, New Museum, New York, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.