Cool Mom Masks; Simone Leigh and Nimba Rituals

Cool Mom Masks; Simone Leigh and Nimba Rituals

I’ve said it before... I never get tired of taking my kids to see art.  BUT it can be exhausting when a museum doesn’t make this easy on me and I’m stuck having to haphazardly curate the experience all on my own.  

In the Ryan Learning Center at the Art Institute of Chicago, kids use computers to create a personalized “Journey Maker” book, which leads them on a scavenger hunt around the museum and awards them a prize for seeing the 5 artworks pictured on its pages.  The program prompts children to pick images based on their interests, which are constantly changing, so each time you go, you see new stuff.   My guys love the challenge, I love the structure of checking things off the “list” (and getting the heck out so we can go have snacks).    

Last week, on his way to find this beaded mask, Teddy stopped in front of a photograph of a costumed figure surrounded by people who appeared to be singing and dancing.  And his screentime dreams came true when a nearby iPad showed a video that brought the picture to life- a recording of a fertility ritual celebrated by the Baga people of Guinea.  In it, an aged female figure (“Nimba”) is honored by the young women of the community who hope to bear children or continue to have healthy babies.  The figure is composed of a large wooden carving (fashioned to sit on a pair of shoulders) that’s worn atop a “skirt” of fabric and raffia.  

See here: 

Teddy learning about the  Nimba  headress, created and worn by the Baga people of Guinea.  

Teddy learning about the Nimba headress, created and worn by the Baga people of Guinea.  

Here’s a better pic of the real thing...

It’s literally a mom costume... saggy boobs and all.  And, get this!  It’s only worn by men!  🤔. Naturally, I loved this magical demonstration of reverence to motherhood, and MATURE motherhood at that!  Reminded me right away of an artist who’s getting a ton of attention these days (which some say is long overdue)... Simone Leigh.  

Check out sculptural work and see the obvious connection:

Simone Leigh, “No Face (Pannier)” (2018), terracotta, graphite, salt-fired porcelain, steel, raffia

Simone Leigh, “No Face (Pannier)” (2018), terracotta, graphite, salt-fired porcelain, steel, raffia

Simone Leigh, “Cupboard VIII” (2018), stoneware, steel, raffia, Albany slip (© Simone Leigh; image courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York)

Simone Leigh, “Cupboard VIII” (2018), stoneware, steel, raffia, Albany slip (© Simone Leigh; image courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York)

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Leigh, a Chicago native, is primarily a ceramic artist who’s been working with “black female subjectivity”* for about 20 years.  Her work references images from the American South as well as artistic traditions of West Africa.  

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Recently, she was commissed to create a large-scale sculpture for the High Line, in NYC.  “Brick House” is a 16 foot sculpture of a Black woman, who towers over 30 St. and 10th Ave.  

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Also recent- Leigh was honored with the Guggenheim’s Hugo Boss Prize for 2018, which acknowledges extraordinary work in the field of contemporary art.  She is the first Black woman of to receive the Prize.  

Leigh with The Guggenheim’s Hugo Boss Prize for 2018 (via  Vulture )

Leigh with The Guggenheim’s Hugo Boss Prize for 2018 (via Vulture)

 “This emphasis on centering the black female experience is profoundly inspiring in its simultaneous radicality and necessity.” 

-Jury for the Hugo Boss Prize 

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A solo show of Leigh’s work, titled “Loophole of Retreat” debuted at the Guggenheim Friday, April 19th.  Here’s a pic:

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Gosh!  She’s good!  She makes such strong aesthetic connections that it’s easy to see the Black female empowerment as strengthened by these long-established African traditions that support and  recognize women.  

I’m eager to watch n’ see more of Simone Leigh as she continues to get kudos for such stupendous stuff!

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