The sculptural work of the celebrated artist Simone Leigh explores ideas about history, race, gender, labor and monuments. For ‘Sovereignty,’ the exhibition in the U.S. Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale of Art, she has created a new body of work: sculptures in bronze, ceramic and raffia placed inside and outside the pavilion that highlight the often unseen and unacknowledged labor and resilience of Black women.
Leigh employs a strategy that she calls “the creolization of form,” combining disparate cultural languages linked through histories of colonization. With this series of works, she brings together references to 19th-century West African art, early Black American material culture and the colonial history of international expositions. The architecture of the pavilion itself has been "creolized" with the installation of a thatched roof, thus transforming the neoclassical building into a structure resembling a 1930s West African palace.
The exhibition’s title addresses notions of self-governance and independence—both individual and collective. Leigh’s ‘Sovereignty’ is about authoring one’s own history and filling the gaps in the historical record by proposing new hybridities. With a singular visual language derived from vernacular architecture and the female body, using materials and processes associated with African and Afrodiasporic artistic traditions, she articulates a powerful and expansive view of the Black femme experience.
In this video, the pavilion’s co-commissioners Jill Medvedow (Ellen Matilda Poss Director, ICA/Boston) and Eva Respini (U.S. Pavilion Curator) speak about Leigh’s historic exhibition, which can be viewed from April 23rd to November 27th, 2022 at the Giardini della Biennale in Venice.
For more detailed information on the artist and the show, visit the 2022 U.S. Pavilion’s dedicated website.
Video by MONA productions. Produced by Monica Salazar and Kris Wilton (ICA/Boston). Filmed and edited by Peter Cairns. © The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston.