Simone Leigh makes history by breaking two ceilings. Firstly, being selected as the first Black woman to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale for art in 2022. Secondly, she is the first American artists selected who works primarily in clay and ceramics.
She recounts being told again and again by critics and well-wishing friends that she could not make it into the fine arts because she was a black woman, her subject was black women, and because she worked with ceramics.
Far from holding her back, once her career developed some traction it has surged. She won the Guggenheim Museum’s $100,000 Hugo Boss Prize, joined Hauser & Wirth, one of the world’s biggest galleries, and was included in the Berlin Biennale, the Whitney Biennial, and the Dak’Art Biennale of Contemporary African Art. And those are only the Cliff Notes.
Institute for Contemporary Art /Boston Director Jill Medvedow who is co-commissioner of the U.S. Pavilion, with ICA Chief Curator Eva Respini, notes that her work:
“Disrupts the historical narrative of over 400 years of United States history. Her work] has tremendous presence, magnificent presence. It occupies space that traditionally Black female bodies have not occupied. At this moment of overdue reckoning on race and justice, there’s no one better to represent the United States.
What we’re seeing right now is an unbelievable explosion in the presentation of work of African-American and diasporic intellectuals, creatives, artists, writers, and thinkers. It is overdue, really exciting, and critically important, and Simone is part of this flourishing. It recognizes an artist who has been hard at work building her art for decades. The decision is based on the importance of her and her ideas.”
“To be the first Black American woman to occupy the American Pavilion for the 59th La Biennale di Venezia is a great honor,” Leigh said in a statement. “I acknowledge the paradox of my position during this time when the depth of White supremacy in America is in full view. I also recognize that this is a time when Black artists and intellectuals of the diaspora are flourishing and have reached critical mass. My show, comprised primarily of sculpture, will engage the work of Black feminist thinkers who have enlarged and transcended the limits of this democracy.”
Cfile, a fan for years, has closely followed her career and offers its congratulations to Simone Leigh for her deserved historic achievement, winning the greatest honor that the United States confers on a contemporary artist. Read more about Leigh in Cfile.