The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, in partnership with the Office of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State, unveiled a beautiful new website which gives a first look at Simone Leigh’s next commission for the United States pavilion at the upcoming Venice Biennale in 2022. When she was announced as a featured artist, Leigh made history as the first woman black to lead the American pavilion in Venice.
The new website includes brief previews of Leigh, the Venice Biennale, ICA Boston and several other partners who will bring the pavilion to life when it opens next April. Among these is Spelman College in Atlanta, which will offer a two-semester course in the art of Leigh. The course will be taught by art historian julia elizabeth neal, who holds a doctorate. candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, and will include guest lectures by the pavilion’s two co-curators, ICA Boston Director Jill Medvedow, and ICA Boston Chief Curator Eva Respini.
The new website comes nearly a week after Leigh made a surprise announcement that she would no longer be represented by the international mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth, which had just started representing her last year. It is extremely rare that artists leave their gallery before a major project, such as the American pavilion. At the time, Leigh said in a statement, “I don’t think the gallery is for me in the broad sense. I’m still figuring out what I want from a main gallery relationship.
Among the most interesting parts of the site is a short film by Shaniqwa Jarvis, which shows Leigh at work in her studio, creating many of the works that will fill the pavilion next year. We see Leigh, standing on scaffolding, smoothing and then incising clay sculptures that will likely then be cast in bronze, as is much of his most famous work. Leigh will also present ceramic works as part of the pavilion. The camera pans over reference images, scale drawings, and the dozens of tools that go into making his sculptures of black women that draw inspiration from various stories, as well as his speculative work to fill in the gaps in archives.
During the video, several people provide insight via voiceovers into Leigh’s practice, including Rashida Bumbray, director of culture and art for the Open Society Foundations, who says, “Simone persevered because that she thought she would, she knew she would. Her focus on the subjectivity of black women and, truly, the inner life of black women is connected to a historical continuum that integrates architecture, integrates the old. And I think that’s one of the things that makes her work related to black women as a primary audience. “
Respini adds: “Simone’s work is essential. It’s monumental. It merges cultural languages linked by colonial histories and makes us reconsider power, visibility and representation.