Simone Leigh’s American pavilion draws lines around the courtyard during the Venice Biennale premiere this week. But those who fail to attend the breathtaking presentation of the Giardini will have several other chances.
The presentation, which includes 11 new works, will form the basis of Leigh’s first-ever survey exhibition, at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, which commissioned the pavilion, next March. It will then embark on a national tour with a stop at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. in the fall and winter of 2023 and 2024, followed by a joint presentation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the California de the city. African American Museum in Spring and Summer 2024.
ICA Boston Chief Curator Eva Respini, who organized the Venice pavilion, will curate the traveling exhibit. It covers 20 years of Leigh’s practice.
For Venice, Leigh has created an extensive body of work on the black female subject that draws on references ranging from the ritual performances of the Baja peoples in Guinea to the ancient black American material culture of the Edgefield district of South Carolina and of the Paris Colonial Exhibition of 1931.
We see an imposing bronze female figure with a disc in place of a head (which barely arrived in time for the opening); a statue of a working washerwoman reminiscent of the stereotypical 19th-century postcards used to promote tourism in Jamaica; and the very first portrait of the artist, that of the writer Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts.
However, what is perhaps the show’s best and most memorable work will not travel. Leigh transformed the facade of the American Pavilion – a Jeffersonian brick neoclassical building with white columns – by covering it with a thatched roof that resembles a 1930s West African palace and encircling it with wooden poles.
The installation – aptly titled, Facade– is inspired by the Paris Colonial Exposition of 1931, a six-month event in which Western nations boasted about their colonial empires by building replicas of distant local architecture for public consumption. (It’s perhaps no exaggeration to view the work as a sly critique of the Biennale itself, another world’s fair that offers miniature visions of national cultures.)
The pavilion, titled ‘Sovereignty’, also features a 26-minute film by Leigh and Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich that traces the creation of the exhibited works, with close-up shots of the artist crimping, braiding and walking on clay as if they were grapes turned into wine. The film ends with a long shot of Leigh burning a papier-mâché and raffia version of a ceramic work, Anonymous, to be seen in an earlier gallery. This work – which depicts the unidentified black female subject of a racist 1882 souvenir photograph by a white photographer – would have been so difficult for Leigh to live with in the studio that her twin’s burning served as a sort of cathartic distancing ritual. .
The tight show is so full of historical and cultural references – about visible and invisible work; how black women have been represented and have represented themselves; The European American appropriation of African culture and the endurance of African iconography in the Diaspora – that perhaps it would take a whole book to explain them all. Fortunately, the museum’s next exhibition will be accompanied by an important monograph.
“To tell the truth,” Leigh said in a statement, “you have to invent what might be missing from the archive, cut time, worry about scale issues, move things formally in a way that reveals something. more true than a fact.
See more images from “Simone Leigh: Sovereignty” below.
Follow Artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay one step ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to receive breaking news, revealing interviews and incisive reviews that move the conversation forward.