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A Groundbreaking Monograph Delves Into Simone Leigh’s Enduring Commitment to Centering Black Women
October 17, 2023
Simone Leigh’s first monograph opens with this quote from the artist: “In order to tell the truth, you need to invent what might be missing from the archive, to collapse time, to concern yourself with issues of scale, to formally move things around in a way that reveals something more true than fact.”
It’s a lofty and perceptive statement that perfectly illustrates Leigh’s oeuvre. Working across sculpture, installation, and video, the artist returns to the aesthetics of Africa and the African diaspora as she amends the art historical narrative by putting Black women and Black feminist thought at the center. Her works draw on craft traditions and legacies through her material choices, including the ceramic pots and raffia skirts that meld with her figurative works. These hybrid forms draw attention to labor and value, particularly as they relate to women’s disregarded contributions throughout history and around the globe.
Spanning two decades of work, the 372-page book accompanies Leigh’s first major museum survey, which closed at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston in September. The exhibition is in the midst of a nearly two-year tour and currently on its way to the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., where it will open in November and continue through March 2024, before finishing its run at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and California African American Museum between June 2024 and January 2025.
Comprising bronze, ceramic, and video works, the retrospective highlights the artist’s visual vocabulary of cowrie shells, rosettes, and indistinct facial features, along with pieces from her milestone achievement: In 2022, Leigh became the first Black woman to represent the U.S. at the Venice Biennale with Sovereignty, an exhibition encompassing sculptures exploring self-determination and the interior lives of Black women.
Within the monograph, writing from brilliant scholars like Saidiya Hartman and Christina Sharpe elucidates Leigh’s interests and aesthetics, alongside historical photos, glimpses of the artist’s studio, and full-spread images of works. An essential and groundbreaking survey, the volume is celebratory, lauding Leigh’s expansive practice and enduring desire to fill gaps in the archive.
Simone Leigh was published earlier this month by Delmonico Books and is available on Bookshop.
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