Simone Leigh | Artist Overview

Born in Chicago in 1967, Simone Leigh received a BA in fine art with a minor in philosophy from Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, in 1990. There, she embarked on her training in traditional ceramics under the tutelage of practitioners whose lineage can be traced back to the British studio potter Bernard Leach (1887–1979). After spending a semester as an intern at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., Leigh developed an interest in engaging with the often erroneous categorization, display, and historicization of objects associated with the African diaspora.
Leigh works primarily with sculpture, installation, and video, as well as with Social Practice, to foreground black female experience. Often combining premodern techniques and materials—including lost-wax casting, salt-fired ceramics, and terracotta—with potent cultural iconographies such as cowrie shells, plantains, and tobacco leaves, Leigh creates objects and environments that reframe stereotypes associated with black women and celebrate black life. Her series Anatomy of Architecture (2016– ) occupies the liminal space between figuration and abstraction, merging forms drawn from the human body, the built environment, and the domestic realm. Employing a research-based approach grounded in materiality, Leigh renders figures and architectonic forms in bronze, ceramic, and raffia that are imbued with references and sensibilities sourced from Pan-African vernacular culture, ranging from early Egyptian terracotta vessels and the rammed-earth dwellings of the Cameroonian Mousgoum to Nigerian ibeji figures and nineteenth-century African American face jugs.

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“In order to tell the truth, you need to invent what might be missing from the archive, to collapse time, to concern yourself with issues of scale, to formally move things around in a way that reveals something more true than fact. That’s always what I’ve been trying to do in sculpture.”

Sione Leigh