Simone Leigh Sovereignty

Official U.S. Presentation, 59th International
Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia

April 23–
November 27, 2022

Commissioned by the
Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston


U.S. Flag U.S. Department of State seal

Simone Leigh was presented by the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State.

Educational partners

Spelman College

The ICA partnered with Spelman College to offer a two-semester seminar to immerse students in the art and ideas of Simone Leigh, and introduce them to the history of the U.S. Pavilion and the organization of the Leigh exhibition there as part of the 2022 Venice Biennale. The seminar, entitled “Simone Leigh, Art & Theory,” was taught by julia elizabeth neal in the fall and Cheryl Finley in the spring. The curriculum included foundational written and visual sources to “provide a broad context for, and cultivate a rich understanding of, the concepts and aesthetics framing Leigh’s work and practice. Topics include Black feminist theories, social practice and sculpture, visual traditions with African diasporic cultures, and performance art.” Eleven students from across the college and the AUC Art History + Curatorial Studies Collective participated. Read select writings from participating students —>

An art historian and Ph.D. candidate in modern and contemporary U.S. and African-American Art at the University of Texas at Austin, julia elizabeth neal specializes in modern and contemporary art in the United States, and her research focuses on conceptual and performance-based practices by Black artists engaging politics of identity and (trans)nationalism since the “post-war” era. neal is currently completing a dissertation on Fluxus artist and co-founder Benjamin Patterson (1934-2016), an African-American double-bassist who relocated to Germany after 1989.

Cheryl Finley is the Inaugural Director of the Atlanta University Center Art History and Curatorial Studies Collective and Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Department of Art and Visual Culture at Spelman College. Committed to engaging strategic partners to transform the art and culture industry, she leads an innovative undergraduate program at the world’s largest historically Black college and university consortium in preparing the next generation of African American museum and visual arts professionals. A curator and contemporary art critic, Dr. Finley is also an award-winning author noted for Committed to Memory: The Art of the Slave Ship Icon. Her current research examines the global art economy, focusing on the relationship among artists, museums, biennials, and migration in the book project Black Art Futures and the interdisciplinary project Mapping Art History at HBCUs, designed to harness the power of art history and the promise of technology to revolutionize the art industry. She is working on a book about the African and African American presence at the Venice Biennale titled Black Venice.

Pavilion co-commissioners Jill Medvedow, Ellen Matilda Poss Director of the ICA, and Eva Respini, ICA Barbara Lee Chief Curator, participated in the seminar as guest lecturers, as did Valerie Cassel Oliver, Sydney and Francis Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Pamela Council, New York–based interdisciplinary artist; and Dr. Stephanie Sparling Williams, Professor and Associate Curator at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. Students also had a virtual studio tour and class with Simone Leigh.

Spelman College, a historically Black college and global leader in the education of women of African descent, is dedicated to academic excellence in the liberal arts and sciences and the intellectual, creative, ethical, and leadership development of its students. Spelman empowers the whole person to engage the many cultures of the world and inspires a commitment to positive social change.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection

To amplify the reach and impact of this project on the young people of the city of Venice, the ICA partnered with the Peggy Guggenheim Collection to offer a four-day free professional development opportunity for 24 middle and high-school educators in the Veneto region. Learn more —>

These teachers formed a learning community to explore the work of Simone Leigh using a multidisciplinary arts engagement approach rooted in the ICA’s nationally recognized teen arts education model and informed by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection’s educational program. The workshop connected visual and verbal learning and brought together teachers of various disciplines. All workshops were held in both Italian and English.

Participating educators made art with professional artists, attended special tours of the U.S. Pavilion and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, engaged in critical conversations, and performed original written work. The teachers created curriculum designed to inspire, empower, and educate their students. This curriculum, and resources co-developed by the ICA and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, was shared broadly with educators in Italy and the U.S.

Robust arts education is critical to building the next generation of artists, leaders, and citizens. The art of Simone Leigh will be a vehicle for these teachers in empowering Venice’s young people to develop knowledge of self and the world around them.