Simone Leigh is an American artist from Chicago who works in New York City in the United States. She works in various media including sculpture, installations, video, performance, and social practice. Leigh has described her work as auto-ethnographic, and her interests include African art and vernacular objects, performance, and feminism. Her work is concerned with the marginalization of women of color and reframes their experience as central to society. Leigh has often said that her work is focused on “Black female subjectivity,” with an interest in complex interplays between various strands of history.
Early life and career
Leigh was born to Jamaican parents and received a BA in Art and minored in Philosophy from Earlham College in 1990.
The artist combines her training in American ceramics with an interest in African pottery, using African motifs which tend to have modernist characteristics. Though Leigh considers herself to be primarily a sculptor, she recently has been involved in social sculpture, or social practice work that engages the public directly. Her objects often employ materials and forms traditionally associated with African art, and her performance-influenced installations create spaces where historical precedent and self-determination co-mingle. She describes this combination representing “a collapsing of time.” Her work has been described as part of a generation’s reimagining of ceramics in a cross-disciplinary context. She has given artist lectures in many institutions nationally and internationally, and has taught in the ceramics department of the Rhode Island School of Design.
During her residency at the New Museum, Leigh founded an organization called Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter (BWAforBLM), a collective formed in direct response to the murder of Philando Castille, and in protest against other similar injustices against black lives.
Simone Leigh is the creator of the Free People’s Medical Clinic a social practice project created with Creative Time in 2014. A reenactment of the Black Panther Party’s initiative of the same name. The installation was located in a 1914 Bed-Stuy brownstone called the Stuyvesant Mansion, previously owned by notable African-American doctor Josephine English (1920–2011). As an homage to this history, Leigh created a walk-in health center with yoga, nutrition, and massage sessions, staffed by volunteers in 19th-century nurse uniforms.