Buhmann on Art: Simone Leigh at the New Museum

Simone Leigh: “Landscape” (digital collage, 2016, from the series “Anatomy of Architecture”). Photo courtesy the artist.

Simone Leigh: “Landscape” (digital collage, 2016, from the series “Anatomy of Architecture”). Photo courtesy the artist.

BY STEPHANIE BUHMANN | For years, Simone Leigh has explored black subjectives, particularly those of women, to create object-based, sculptural explorations that are often informed by ancient African and African-American object-making. More recently, she has focused on how institutionalized control and indifference can lead to radical forms of self-care and social care. In 2014, for example, she created a socially engaged work in cooperation with Creative Time, which provided free treatments and workshops over the course of four weekends in the former Brooklyn home of Dr. Josephine English, the first black OB/GYN in the state of New York. Leigh’s current installation and residency at the New Museum continues this theme.

In “The Waiting Room,” Leigh ponders whether creating a space for wellness may in fact require an act of disobedience. The work was inspired by a variety of care environments, such as medicine markets in Durban, South Africa, as well as meditation rooms. Manifesting as a sanctuary for wellness and happiness, it involves a variety of public and private workshops, healing treatments, and “care sessions.”

For these, Leigh has involved various professionals in the field of holistic health, and a private, “underground” series of intimate, in-depth workshops and classes for community partners offered at the Museum after hours. Additionally, a series of talks, performances, and events conceptualized as medicinal dialogues on aging, disobedience, abortion, healing performances, and toxicity complement the project.

From the care session “Afrocentering with Aimee Meredith Cox.” Photo courtesy New Museum, NY.

From the care session “Afrocentering with Aimee Meredith Cox.” Photo courtesy New Museum, NY.

As “The Waiting Room” makes treatments for bodily and spiritual health easily accessible to all, the notion of holistic care as a mere luxury good diminishes. Conscious of the larger historical context, Leigh’s installation evokes other examples from the past when social inequality necessitated community-organized care. The United Order of Tents, a secret society of nurses that has been active since the time of the Underground Railroad, and the volunteers in the Black Panther Party’s police-embattled clinics that were active from the 1960s to the 1980s, serve as a source of inspiration.

“Simone Leigh: The Waiting Room” is on view through Sept. 18 at the New Museum
(235 Bowery
btw. Stanton & Rivington Sts.). Upcoming public programs include “Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter” on Thurs., Sept. 1, 4:30–8:30pm and Vanessa Agard-Jones: On Toxicity” on Sat., Sept. 10, 3pm. Museum hours: Wed–Sun, 11am–6pm, Thurs, 11am–9pm. Admission: $16
($14 seniors, $10 students, free for ages 18 and under, pay as you wish every Thurs. from 7–9pm). For more info, call 212-219-1222 or visit newmuseum.org.

From the care session “Herbs for Energy and Pleasure with Karen Rose.” Photo courtesy New Museum, NY.

From the care session “Herbs for Energy and Pleasure with Karen Rose.” Photo courtesy New Museum, NY.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *