Simone Leigh will be first Black woman to represent US at Venice Biennale

Brooklyn-based artist acknowledges 'depth of white supremacy in America' on social media

Simone Leigh David Heald © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

Simone Leigh David Heald © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

Simone Leigh will represent the US at the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022, making her the first Black woman to secure the prestigious commission. Leigh was selected by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Her exhibition at the US pavilion is co-commissioned by Jill Medvedow, director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston (ICA Boston), and Eva Respini, the institute’s chief curator.

“Leigh’s new body of work for the Biennale will include a monumental bronze sculpture for the US Pavilion’s outdoor forecourt. The Pavilion’s five galleries will house interrelated works in ceramic, bronze, and raffia, populating the gallery space with figurative representations for the first time in many years,” says a statement from ICA Boston.

Leigh writes on Instagram: "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."

Born in 1967 in Chicago to Jamaican parents, Leigh graduated in 1990 with a major in art and a minor in philosophy at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana; she lives and works in Brooklyn. Leigh is known for ceramics, sculpture, video, performance and social projects that focus on race, history and gender, but above all on the Black female experience.

“Over the course of two decades, Simone Leigh has created an indelible body of work that centres the experiences and histories of Black women. At such a crucial moment in history, I can think of no better artist to represent the United States,” Medvedow says. ICA Boston will also host a survey exhibition of Leigh’s works in 2023.

Free People’s Medical Clinic (2014) © Simone Leigh; Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine

In an interview with The Art Newspaper last year, the artist discussed her practice and some of her key works including Free People’s Medical Clinic (2014) and Head with Cobalt (2018).

In 2018, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum awarded Leigh the Hugo Boss Prize. She also featured in last year’s Whitney Biennial and created the colossal piece, Brick House (2018-19), a 16-foot-tall bust of a black woman on view at the High Line in Manhattan (until spring 2021).

Leigh told us: “I thought it might be appropriate to have a sculpture [Brick House] that considers beauty as its subject matter in this setting. I was thinking about representation of a kind of femininity that I’m more interested in: a femininity that’s based on being solid as opposed to fragile, as well as the complex history of art represented in the sculpture. The Benin bronzes were a touchstone in the creation of the work.”

The 59th Venice Biennale will take place in 2022 (23 April-27 November) following the decision by biennial officials to postpone the Architecture Biennale until May 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak. The world’s most prestigious biennial was initially due to take place next year.