SIMONE LEIGH, THE FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN ARTIST TO REPRESENT THE US PAVILION AT THE 59TH INTERNATIONAL ART EXHIBITION OF LA BIENNALE DI VENEZIA, RECEIVES THE GOLDEN LION.
The entire façade of the U.S. Pavillion is transformed with wooden columns and a thatched roof, a common feature of the West African architecture of the early 20th century. The Façade is a reference to the Paris Colonial Exposition of 1931, where the cultures of the peoples then under French colonial control were displayed as trophies.
SATELLITE, a large totemic bronze sculpture almost eight metres high, welcomes us outside of the pavilion, drawing us in like a signal picked up by a radar.
Inspired by the shoulder masks used during traditional rituals of communication with ancestors by the Baga peoples of Guinea, Leigh transforms the sculpture's large head into a satellite dish while the monumental bust rests on slender arched legs under which we, tiny people, can stand imagining ourselves in a sort of a large belly.
The Pavilion is dedicated to the celebration of the feminine through sculptural works that interrogate the issues of race, cultural affiliations, oppression, subjective thoughts, black feminism and self-determination. The first room presents a bronze sculpture LAST GARMENT, a large pool with a woman bent over in the act of washing clothes. This sculpture references a late nineteenth-century photograph titled Mammy's last Garment, put on a postcard created by the British tourism industry and used as an invitation to visit colonised countries.
SENTINEL stands in the round room in the centre of the U.S. Pavillion, it is an almost five metres high representation of a woman’s body as if it were a large pole with a concave head in the form of a SATELLITE that is watching over everything. This sculpture is also a reference to the power objects used in tribal rituals to which divine energy and knowledge were attributed.
The artist defines her works as a creolisation of form. A daughter of missionaries who grew up in Chicago, Leigh has always been interested in the African diaspora, its social history and all its connections and ramifications, in the sense of individual sovereignty and personal independence against authority with continuous references between past and present expressed through the figurative and the abstract.
The large female sculpture SHARIFA - the first ever portrait created by Leigh, made after her friend and writer Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts - leaning against the wall and holding her hands delicately placed over her dress, with a head bowed forward, stands in the silence of the white room where the video Conspiracy, made by Leigh in collaboration with Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich, is projected.
All the works, but especially the giant black figures silently observing from above, involuntarily inspire us to reflect on our relationship with history, not without a sense of inferiority and regret for a humanity that is often wrong, often judgmental, and almost always unwelcoming.
by DMM for Dare Clan
images by DMM at Venice Biennale 2022