Luhring Augustine presents recent sculptures and a new video work by Simone Leigh, marking her first solo exhibition with the gallery.
Leigh’s practice is an object-based exploration of vernacular visual traditions from throughout the black diaspora and their intersection with constructions of black female subjectivity, black feminist discourse, histories of radical resistance, and ethnographic research. Through her principal medium of ceramics, she relates quotidian objects to bodies, and labor to performance, exploring tropes of beauty, utility, agency, desire, and possession.
The exhibition features a new body of sculptural work that departs from and continues the exploration of her earlier series: Anatomy of Architecture. In these works she draws upon disparate, seemingly anachronistic histories of ancient Roman-Egyptian and more recent American vernacular art and architecture, with a focus on the anthropomorphic features of objects and their relationship to specific functions. From a 200 BC bronze “Vase and lid in the form of a Nubian boy”, to face jugs produced by enslaved African American potters in South Carolina, and to Mammy’s Cupboard – a Mississippi café housed in the figure of a woman’s skirt, Leigh’s new ceramic sculptures parse how these objects emblematize and problematize space in regard to the body, fusing and implicating the human form with architecture.
Commissioned by the 10th Berlin Biennale, Leigh’s latest video work Untitled (M*A*SH) is an amalgamation of her sculptural practice and performative projects such as The Free People’s Medical Clinic and The Waiting Room. With a screenplay by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts and cinematography by Bradford Young, the work recasts an episode of the long-running TV show M*A*S*H with an all-black female cast comprised of artists, writers, performers, and scholars; all individuals with whom Leigh has collaborated in the past. Through the lens of the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, Untitled (M*A*S*H) speaks to histories and strategies of care, community, separatism, and secrecy by invoking the Black Panther Party’s people’s free health clinics and the United Order of Tents – a clandestine society of black nurses and physicians founded during the Civil War. A passage from trailblazing sculptor Nancy Elizabeth Prophet’s diary and references to the writings of Ida B. Wells ground the film in the work of pioneering feminists who exposed and created spaces for maligned, intersectional forms of knowledge and experience. Further inspired by Chantal Akerman’s seminal film, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (1975), Leigh’s vignettes explore women’s labor in real time and black femme experience, as well as gesture toward traditions of radical practice in hopes of rediscovering ways to address the crises of our present.
-Daniella Rose Kingall images © the gallery and the artist(s)