Sculptor Simone Leigh Makes History as the First Black Woman to Represent U.S. at the Venice Biennale

Sculptor Simone Leigh has made history as the first Black woman chosen to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale, one of the world’s most prestigious art and culture events. The Brooklyn-based artist, renowned for her large-scale work celebrating Black women, will make her debut in 2022.

“I feel like I’m a part of a larger group of artists and thinkers who have reached critical mass,” Leigh told The New York Times. “And despite the really horrific climate that we’ve reached, it still doesn’t distract me from the fact of how amazing it is to be a Black artist right now.”

Leigh’s Venetian show, mostly composed of sculpture, “will engage the work of black feminist thinkers who have enlarged and transcended the limits of this democracy,” she explained on Instagram. The presentation will run from April 23 to November 27, 2022. It’s set to be her biggest show to date.

Leigh’s work for the Biennale will feature a series of new pieces and installations, including a monumental bronze sculpture in the outdoor forecourt of the venue’s pavilion. She’ll address “an ‘incomplete archive’ of Black feminist thought, with works inspired by leading Black intellectuals,” Eva Respini, co-commissioner at the Biennale, said. “Her work insists on the centrality of Black female forms within the cultural sphere, and serves as a beacon in our moment.”

On Instagram, Leigh further shared the significance of her milestone in the wake of a global reckoning on systemic racism and racial injustice. “To be the first Black American woman to occupy the American Pavilion for the 58th La Biennale di Venezia is a great honor,” she wrote. “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.”

Leigh was born in Chicago in 1967 and received her bachelor’s degree in fine art in 1990 at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. Throughout her decades-long career, she has worked with sculpture, video, and installation in pieces that explore the experiences of Black femmes, with styles and materials inspired by African art.

In 2018, Leigh won the esteemed Hugo Boss Prize, which came with a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim museum in New York City. She has also presented at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and earned a slot at the Whitney Biennial at New York’s Whitney Museum in 2019.


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