I was living abroad when I was asked to highlight artists and select some special guests for the upcoming March, 2020, Clio Art Fair in New York. I dove deeply into the project, browsing the New York contemporary art scene for the edges of performing arts. I found myself open-mouthedly staring at some mesmerizing, ultra-contemporary, glamorous never-Sleeping Beauty videos with sound, light, and inspiration. I live in a small village in the Sicilian mountains, and all I normally hear are chirping birds, ringing clocks, and bleating sheep. You might easily imagine my consternation when I landed on the review of Simone Leigh’s project “The Waiting Room” (2016). I felt extraordinarily impacted by this show.
“Focusing specifically on an expanded notion of medicine, The Waiting Room references a wide range of care environments and opportunities (...) and involves a variety of public and private workshops and healing treatments that the artist refers to as “care sessions.” Blurring the distinction between bodily and spiritual health, or between wellness and happiness (...), Leigh has convened practitioners who view social justice as integral to their work.” (https://www.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/view/simone-leigh-the-waiting-room)
Simone Leigh Photo by Robin Cembalest
Ms Leigh actually physically created an interactive “clandestine” medical environment, as an everlasting memory— a denunciation even—of histories and intersections of urgency, agency, and intervention embraced by social movements, black communities, and women. The inspiration came to her from the sad history—that you may know already—of Esmin Elizabeth Green, who on June 18, 2008, died from blood clots after sitting in the waiting room of a Brooklyn hospital for 24 hours.
With a wide range of medical solutions, Leigh provides an alternative vision of health care shaped by the African-American female experience.
"The Waiting Room" involves public and private care sessions from different traditions of medicine, such as herbalism, meditation rooms, movement studios, and other holistic approaches to health care. Outside of museum hours, this exhibition became "The Waiting Room Underground," providing free, private workshops outside of the public eye as an homage to the health care work of the Black Panthers and the United Order of Tents.
The Waiting Room suggests that creating a space for wellness may require both the making of a sanctuary and an act of disobedience against the systemic enactment and repudiation of black pain. (https://www.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/view/simone-leigh-the-waiting-room)
This project developed out of an earlier iteration of Leigh’s socially engaged work, “Free People’s Medical Clinic” (2014), organized by Creative Time, which provided free treatments and workshops over the course of four weekends in the former Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, which was also the home of Dr. Josephine English, the first black OB-GYN in the state of New York.