Saturday, August 27, 2016

A Comforting Love Letter to the Black Woman: Self Care Through Art Is Here

Landscape, from Anatomy of Architecture series, Simone Leigh, digital collage, 2016.
When the world turns its negligent back on black women, with heavy weighted abuse thrown carelessly along fragile, easily damaged psyches, where can black women find both trust and comfort? Where can they seek refuge mentally, emotionally, and physically? 
The latest horrors on Leslie Jones' have reached an explosive breaking point.
Esmin Elizabeth Green's senseless death in a Brooklyn waiting room serves as one of the catalysts of Simone Leigh's latest work. "The Waiting Room," at New Museum, is an installation centralizing on granting women a safe, medicinal healing space.
“We feel the urgency because of what happened to the state of US health care, which is not good,” says Leigh. “From what I have observed, we have one of the worst healthcare systems internationally. And it adversely affects people of color.”
Once stepping off fifth floor elevator, walking forth though dimly lit space, alluring black aligned rectangular cushions make greeting. Circular black shapes resting on solid gray floor, adjacent to each other in evenly spaced rows, serene unity matching that pleasant smell. At the end, lies a black and white image of seemingly monumental figure, firm and staring above, head held high.

A holistic approach to health.
The Waiting Room has varied herbs encased in fat, cylinder jars. They're natural, organic shapes, muted colors, and sparse textures are attractive, almost seductive, pushing against the glass.
At front desk, dried lavender, crushed rosebuds, and velvety hibiscus are opened, exposed to air. We are meant to hold up these large glass baubles and let our nostrils fully breathe in their earthiness.

Every Saturday is a Guided Meditation for Black Lives Matter featuring therapeutic workshops with tea prior. Acupuncture, wellness, and herbology classes are offered as well as outside exhibition hour projects. In fact, Leigh's spearheaded Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter is getting noticeable attention for bringing one hundred black artists to form an underground collective together.
White heavenly pillows invite viewers inside the meditation clinic where apothecary awaits.
Glassed natural herbs and tied cinnamon barks have pristine orderliness. They also smell sweet and fragrant.  
This great bulk of earth and smaller jars, perhaps meant for participants to gather.
Set up like a grocery store shelf (or better yet the GNC), rowed jars display varying textures-- some sparse, some smooth, some fragmented. Rawness is how it differs from grocery store familiarity. Whereas harmful chemicals and GMOs ingredients fill most processed foods, Leigh's installation is pure, unadulterated, bare. It's a special thoughtfulness behind dedicated tenacity to bring natural awareness to our minds, bodies, hearts, and souls.
A black figurine girl is nestled between exposed and the contained.
Colors are subdued, calming that heightens profound relaxing escape. From brown speckled off white to a warm mellowed pink, and organic browns, peaceful palette visually stimulates brain to embark on a quiet journey within. Its as though the viewer takes a spiritual trek in the heart of nature, uninhibited and unafraid of dangerous unknown, to find the peace missing from chaotic earthly existence. 
Julia Baker: Did they tell you I'm colored?
  Dr. Chegley: What color are you?
Julia Baker: Wh-hy, I'm Negro.
  Dr. Chegley: Have you always been a Negro, or are you just trying to be fashionable?

Theme of black women as healers continues via video format.
Julia, the first non-stereotypical television role for a black woman, starring the amazing Diahann Carroll, is the only short shown in Technicolor. On a repetitive cycle runs memorable phone call nurse-to-be Julia makes to Dr. Chegley. Julia's skin color has nothing to do with her credentials as a woman invested in healing and medicine. Yet at the time, this was controversial.
Leigh bringing apothecary and medicine into art, especially an art museum, is something refreshingly different. It begs a viewer to do more than staring at objects and analyzing meaning. She offers a discussion as to how is the womanly self and how are womanly others around the self-- are you well Sis?
"I don’t pretend to be a public health expert.... The project is more about remembering and honoring the work of the Black Panthers and getting back to the basics of learning how to take care of yourself. In the global south, I have noticed the use of herbs as an everyday, foundational way to care for the body. Some of the herbs in the installation are from a single block in Chinatown on Grand Street that houses several apothecaries, only a few streets from the New Museum itself. I think we have gotten to the point where we don’t realize that pharmaceuticals are in fact derived from plants, and we think the plants themselves are suspect."
“The doctors couldn't treat us. So the women used music as medicine.”
Inside of one of America's first black OBGYN's Josephine English's old grounds, people are invited to do yoga. Cinematic black and white documentary focuses on individual bodies moving to inner rhythm, slowly twisting back and forth. Camera pans to their synchronized fluidity, the empowering strength witnessed in the arms, back, torso, and legs.
As one student readied to leave for the day, the host tells her that she has a nice smile- a lovely sentiment. Sistahs should not only ask the other if her mind is good, if her health is good-- let her know when she is looking and being at her best. As Leigh shares in this necessary health space, we women can heal ourselves and each other.


  1. This post really moved me, as most of your posts do!

    1. Wow! Thank you so much! I'm just trying to get the good word out. I appreciate your continued reading and support. Thank you. :)