Simone Leigh – Set To Represent The U.S. At The 2022 Venice Biennale
Simone Leigh, the American sculptor and social practice artist, has become the first Black woman to represent the United States at the 2022 Venice Biennale. The Brooklyn-based artist’s work has been shown in some of the most important art venues in the world, including the Tate Modern, Hammer, and Guggenheim museums and the New Museum. The announcement, made in October, was celebrated by art world insiders and art lovers alike, as Leigh’s profound, socially relevant, thoughtful, and striking work is most deserving of the prestigious honor.
The 2022 Venice Biennale will hopefully take place when the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 is a distant memory. The 2020 biennale took place despite the coronavirus but as a multidisciplinary historical display, with dance, music, and theatre performances and activations from local Biennale college students. The Venice Biennale for Architecture, also planned for 2020, was postponed until 2021.
The Venice Biennale debuted in 1895 as an exhibition of Italian art to celebrate the silver anniversary of King Umberto I and his wife, Margherita of Savoy, who, coincidentally, was known for her exquisite jewelry collection. The magic of what the Biennale has become is evident in Leigh’s appointment as the U.S. representative in the Art edition.
Leigh was born to Jamaican parents in Chicago and studied art at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. She received her BA in art in 1990 with a minor in philosophy. That minor was a major influence on her work, which she describes, per her gallery’s website, as “auto-ethnographic and informed by Black female–identified subjectivity.” Her mediums include sculpture, video, installations, performance, and social practice, each of which has resulted in unforgettable and culturally significant work.
In 2016, while in residency at The New Museum, Leigh’s interactive work The Waiting Room was created in memoriam to Esmin Elizabeth Green, a Black woman who died from blood clots after waiting 24 hours for medical assistance in a Brooklyn hospital. The work sheds light on societal inequities and indifference to the pain of Black women, according to the artist. It also proposed an alternative view on healthcare, with Leigh assembling private and public care sessions in herbalism, meditation, and other holistic approaches. Moreover, post-museum hours, Leigh’s The Waiting Room Underground offered free and private practitioner sessions in a nod to the healthcare work done by the Black Panthers and the United Order of Tents, a secret society formed in the 1860s to focus on the care of sick and elderly Black women.
Leigh’s recent work can be viewed daily at New York City’s High Line park. The piece, called Brick House, is a bronze bust of a woman whose torso resembles both a petticoat skirt and a clay house. Standing at 16 feet tall, the sculpture’s head is crowned with an Afro framed by cornrows. Brick House is the first in Leigh’s Anatomy of Architecture collection, in which the human body is combined with traditional architectural forms from West Africa to America’s South.