Magazine article Sculpture

Atlanta

Magazine article Sculpture

Atlanta

Article excerpt

Simone Leigh

Atlanta Contemporary Art Center

Simone Leigh, who was born In jamaica and now lives In New York, Investigates race and Identity through ceramics, sculpture, and video. Her recent exhibition, "Gone South," marked her first attempt to explore the American South, particu- larly what she calls "African Ameri- cana," or the folk art traditions of face jugs and bottle trees, as well as vernacular architecture.

Leigh Is not afraid to tackle charged references. One of her signature forms resembles an enlarged cowrie shell that she creates by molding clay around a watermelon, cutting a jagged opening, and glazing In a vari- ety of colors and textures. The results are simultaneously beautiful and loaded with dark references. Cowrie shells were a form of currency In Africa and, It Is claimed, were used as payment when selling fellow Africans Into slavery; and watermelons have long served as a symbol of racism In the U.S. Leigh uses these references to Imbue her exquisitely glazed sculp- tures with distinctly human qualities: they are polished and smooth on the outside, but the opening reveals cracks and fissures.

The cowrie shell also plays a promi- nent role In the show's most ambi- tious work, Cupboard (2014), which was Inspired by a Walker Evans photograph. Mainmie's Cupboard, Natchez, Mississippi (1941) shows a pancake house In the shape of a woman, where patrons enter as though walking under the skirt of a house slave. Leigh has appropriated the skirt's hoop form as the basis for an i8-foot-hlgh steel structure, forty of her cowrie shells hang from the top of the dome, so they rest at eye level Inside. Like the pancake house, Leigh's sculpture can be entered through a doorway In the frame, which allows visitors to explore the ceramics more closely. On one hand, Cupboard can be read as Individuals gathered protectively under the skirt of a nurturing mother figure; on the other, it can appear as a population strangled under the weight of the past.

Tree (2014) has a similar weight. Influenced by the African American tradition of hanging brightly colored bottles from tree branches in order to capture bad spirits, Leigh made her own protective talisman by hanging bottles and other glass forms from a fence-like structure made of steel rods. …

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