Sculptor Simone Leigh Is The First Black Woman to Represent the United States at the Venice Biennale

Simone Leigh BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of artnet news.

Last Wednesday, the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, along with the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, announced that Simone Leigh would be the first Black woman to represent the United States at the prestigious Venice Biennale art festival.

A Chicago native and New York resident, Simone Leigh, has framed her work around an exploration of black women’s subjectivity, combined with African art history, ethnographic research, and post-colonial and feminist theory, Art News explained.

The daughter of Jamaican missionaries in 1967, Leigh will work in conjunction with the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art to bring her selection of works to the 59th Biennial in 2022.

“We already see that the pavilion is historically showing strong, compelling art and changing the narrative of history in terms of who is included and represented,” ICA director Jill Medvedow told Artnet News. “Simone Leigh falls into that fantastic trajectory. The past two artists to represent the US, Martin Puryear and Mark Bradford, are both African Americans and followed presentations from female artists Joan Jonas and Sarah Sze.

Leigh’s selection, Medvedow said, “disrupts 400-plus years of Black women being excluded from this global platform and from our history.”

Often absent from the public scene, Leigh only made clear the importance of her participation in the international event through a message on Instagram.

“I’m so looking forward to a respite from this climate we are living through,” she said.

The ICA’s estimated budget is about $2 million, including a $375,000 award from the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

According to Art News, the objects in the selection will include materials for which Leigh has become famous, such as bronze, ceramics, and raffia.

“For me, there is a sense of hope and uplift that I have in thinking about Simone’s work and the way she is focusing on and foregrounding Black feminist thought,” said ICA chief curator Eva Respini, who is organizing the pavilion. “It’s a kind of beacon at this moment.”