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US artist Leigh recasts colonial imagery at Venice Biennale

Simone Leigh’s sculptures are making a monumental impression on the Venice Biennale modern artwork exhibition.

The first Black girl to headline the U.S. Pavilion on the worldwide present, the American sculptor put in a monumental 24-foot sculpture exterior the Palladian-style brick constructing, which she topped with a thatched raffia roof on wood columns.

Leigh additionally units the tone for the principle Biennale exhibition. Her towering “Brick House,” a bronze bust of a Black girl, presides on the entrance of the Arsenale. Such double citations are uncommon on the 127-year-old artwork truthful, the world’s oldest and most essential, opening its 59th version on Saturday.

Leigh titled her exhibition of bronzes and ceramics on the U.S. Pavilion “Sovereignty.” The title, she stated, got here out of a need “to level to concepts of self-determination” while tapping commonalities in Black feminist thought.

“One thing we all agree on, the real purpose of Black feminist thought is our desire to be ourselves. And to have control over our own bodies,’’ the artist said during the official opening on Thursday.

To that end, another bronze sculpture set in a reflecting pool, “Last Garment,” depicts a laundress at work. Leigh was inspired by a 19th century photograph of a Jamaican woman washing clothes in a river; the U.S. Pavilion exhibition notes say the photo represents the imagery that at that time supported stereotypes of the Caribbean.

In this way, Leigh reappropriates a portrait initially depicted through a lens of colonialism, literally recasting it in bronze.

The works in the pavilion refer specifically to the African diaspora. The raffia-topped façade covers the Palladian-style pavilion and its neo-classical columns, redressing an architectural style that recalls both Jeffersonian notions of freedom and the plantation homes of slaveowners.

The shaggy roof and wooden columns imposed over the colonial style building were inspired by the Cameroon-Togo Pavilion at the 1931 International Colonial Exhibition in Paris, an event meant to display cultures under European colonial rule.

“One would not obscure the opposite. It’s actually about their adjacency. It’s about bringing collectively their two histories, problematic, troubled, and creating new that means,” curator Eva Respini stated.

The works from the U.S. Pavilion will observe Leigh again to the United States, the place they may seem in Leigh’s first museum survey, set for subsequent yr on the ICA Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

This is simply a few of the recognition heaped on Leigh, 54, after twenty years as an artist.

Leigh additionally gained the Studio Museum in Harlem’s $50,000 Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize in 2017 and the distinguished $100,00 Hugo Boss Prize, which included a solo present at New York’s Guggenheim museum the next yr.

“It is overdue like so much, and it is an overdue recognition of Black creativity,’’ said ICA director Jill Medvedow, commissioner of the U.S. Pavilion.

The main exhibition, which features a preponderance of female artists, is curated by Cecilia Alemani, who originally commissioned “Brick House” for The High Line park in New York City. The 5-meter (16-foot) sculpture of a lady whose torso is within the type of West African structure initially ignored Manhattan’s tenth Avenue; it was put in in Venice two days earlier than the Biennale opened for previews.

“She stands there with such majesty, and such beauty. She does not have eyes, but she has this very strong gaze,” Alemani said. ”I’m very joyful to have that sculpture within the present and for Simone to lastly get the deserved advantage on the U.S. pavilion.

The Venice Biennale runs via Nov. 27.

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