I have been asked to select some special guests for the upcoming Clio Art Fair (March 2020 in NY) and, living abroad, I was browsing the New York contemporary art scene deeper than usual, then I got lost in the guts of this glamorous never-Sleeping Beauty, in the edges of the performing arts, open-mouthedly staring at some mesmerizing ultra-contemporain videos with sounds and lights and voices and inspirations. I live in a small village in the sicilian mountains and all the noises that I can hear are chirping, tower-clock bells, and bleats of sheeps, so, you can easily imagine my consternation.
I landed on the review of Simone Leigh’s project “The waiting Room” (2016). I felt extraordinarly implicated 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 (denunciation?) of histories 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 a 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 female, African-American experience.
The Waiting Room involved public and private care sessions from different traditions of medicine such as herbalism, meditation rooms, movement studios, and other holistic approaches to healthcare. Outside of museum hours this exhibition became "The Waiting Room Underground" providing free, private workshops outside of the public eye, an homage to the healthcare 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.
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, Brooklyn, home of Dr. Josephine English, the first black ob-gyn in the state of New York. (https://www.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/view/simone-leigh-the-waiting-room)
Talking to people, we all claim to side with minorities; Leigh made what we all should do: stand up in front of injustice, fight incompetence and ignorance, be indignant facing sexism or racism.
Thank you, Ms Leigh. May your project and your reasons flutter all over the (small) world.