On view in our Entrance Gallery is a sculpture made of terracotta, porcelain, and raffia by American artist Simone Leigh (b. 1967). As an interdisciplinary artist, Leigh works in ceramics, performance, and installation to investigate what she refers to as “black female subjectivities.” Leigh frequently draws on materials associated with Africa and the Caribbean, including raffia and cowrie shells. She simultaneously critiques boundaries between art and craft as they relate to gender, using techniques and media that have historically been connected to women.
Many of Leigh’s works are biographical, taking significant historical events or figures as their point of departure. With her sculpture Dunham (2017), pictured above, Leigh engages with the legacy of dancer and choreographer Katherine Dunham, who is credited for helping introduce African and Caribbean movement styles into the modernist dance vocabulary. For several decades, Dunham was based in East St. Louis, Illinois, where she established the Performing Arts Training Center in 1967. As an artist, activist, and educator, Dunham’s legacy and influence lives on today.