Simone Leigh (b. 1967, Chicago; lives in New York) creates sculptures, videos, and installations that center on the construction of Black female subjectivity. Drawing on various sources and disciplines including ethnography, folklore, alternative healing traditions, and buried histories of political resistance, Leigh delivers emblematic works that highlight the complex concerns of women of color related to physical and mental health, societal beauty standards, community, and equality, bringing them to the forefront of current cultural debates.
Trophallaxis (2008–17) encapsulates Leigh’s emphasis on the female body—particularly the Black female body—as a culturally loaded signifier. The presentation marks the first time this work is shown since it was acquired for the museum in 2018 with funds provided by PAMM’s Collectors Council. The title references a scientific term that describes the behavior of adult social insects as they transfer nourishment from their own bodies to the collective’s larvae—a significant gesture that entails cooperative care and communal labor. Hanging from the ceiling, this impressive chandelier-like sculpture consists of a cluster of black terracotta and porcelain forms that resemble fruit or bursting breasts with nipples painted in silver and gold, from which a menacing network of fully extended car antennas protrude. The forms exude a sense of heightened fertility. At the same time, the scars and marks on each vessel create an ominous impression while recalling traditional African practices of body scarification. Here, Leigh confronts the viewer with a metaphor about the complex associations of the female body with fecundity, sexuality, and labor, alluding to the frequency with which it serves as a conduit for violence as well as its potential as a vehicle for empowerment.
Organization and Support
Simone Leigh: Trophallaxis is organized by PAMM Associate Curator Jennifer Inacio. Ongoing support for PAMM’s project galleries from Knight Foundation is gratefully acknowledged.