Working across ceramics, sculpture, video, installation, and social practice, Simone Leigh examines the construction of black female subjectivity and economies of self-preservation and exchange. Her practice is largely research based and intersectional, and considers a range of sources, including ethnography, feminist discourse, folklore, and histories of political resistance.
Through ceramics, Leigh references vernacular visual traditions from the Caribbean, the American South, and the African continent, as well as the black diasporic experience dating from the Middle Passage to the present. Vessels, cowrie shells, and busts are reoccurring forms, each making symbolic reference to the black body. Each object is heavily decorated, either with pin drops of glaze or clusters of flowers covering the head or face. The repetition of shapes allows Leigh to have a sustained, temporal engagement with the formal—and gendered—history of ceramics and the cultural histories each object represents. Architecture becomes another extension of the body for Leigh; often cages constructed of steel that become either the armature for another layer of cover, or are left bare. These womb-like structures allude to sub-Saharan grass huts and rural meeting places, often built by women.
Concealment and visibility are also central to Leigh’s work, pointing to historical instances where people, especially women of color, operated in secret in order to build communities and organize against oppression. Her recent projects, such as The Free People’s Medical Clinic (2014) and The Waiting Room (2016) locate social practice within institutions that are geared towards underserved communities. Inspired by the outreach work of the Black Panther Party focused on literacy, poverty, and hunger, and radical self-care initiatives rooted in non-traditional health practices, such as herbalism, meditation, acupuncture, and yoga, these free workshops empower visitors to take back the care of their bodies from agents of capitalism.
For her first solo museum exhibition in Los Angeles, Leigh presents a selection of recent ceramics and a site-specific installation, as well as a public program related to her ongoing research and work in public engagement.