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An extension of ‘Simone Leigh: Sovereignty’, the convening features talks, readings, film screenings, and performances by leading black women intellectuals from around the world

Simone Leigh, Façade, 2022. Thatch, steel, and wood, dimensions variable. Satellite, 2022. Bronze, 7.3 x 3 x 2.3m (overall). Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery. Photo by Timothy Schenck.

The U.S. Pavilion at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia announced new details about the work being presented at Loophole of Retreat: Venice, a convening of Black women intellectuals and creatives from around the world that will take place from the 7th until the 9th of October at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini. An extension of the exhibition Simone Leigh: Sovereignty, commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA) in partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the three-day gathering will present talks, readings, film screenings, and performances by today’s leading thinkers, artists, writers, filmmakers, performers, poets, and activists. To share the experience of Loophole of Retreat: Venice with a wide audience, sessions will be streamed live on the U.S. Pavilion website.

In total there will be 60 different presentations featuring the unique perspectives and talents of the esteemed group of participants. The symposium is guided by a set of key directives put forth by artist Simone Leigh and symposium curator Rashida Bumbray with curatorial advisors Saidiya Hartman, University Professor, Columbia University, and Tina M. Campt, Owen F. Walker Professor of Humanities and Modern Culture and Media, Brown University. The directives include: maroonage (independent communities of resistance), manual (done or performed with the hands), magical realism (Black cultural production that disrupts Western progressivist history), medicine (approaches to physical, spiritual, natural, and supernatural ailments), and sovereignty (self-determination). More details about the directives can be found here.

Loophole promises to be a watershed moment in the field of global Black feminist thought which will nurture the intergenerational and interdisciplinary connections and between Black women thinkers and makers working in the Global South and its diasporas,” said Rashida Bumbray. “As each engages with the others and the ideas guiding the symposium, we anticipate new cross-pollinations of thinking, some which may bear collaborative fruit immediately and others which we hope will bear fruit over many years.”

Loophole of Retreat: Venice sessions include, among others:

American performance artist and poet Holly Bass will present a newly expanded version of her durational performance American Woman, which presents an embodied portrait of Black women workers, from unnamed field hands to the second-highest office in the land. With an audio collage of popular music, oral histories, and speeches by Shirley Chisholm, Fannie Lou Hamer, Angela Davis, Stacey Abrams, and others, American Woman distills and amplifies a century of Black women’s largely unheralded contributions to American life using the artist’s own body as a living archive and testament to their labor.

The interdisciplinary creative practice Black Quantum Futurism, formed by Camae Ayewa and Rasheedah Phillips, will present a performance incorporating projected images and an original score. Weaving quantum physics, Afro-Diasporian concepts of temporality, space, image, ritual, and sound to create tools and technologies for Black temporal agency and spatial liberation, Black Quantum Futurism uncovers counter-histories and Afro-diasporic mythologies, and centers Black quantum womanist futures.

Artist Lorraine O’Grady will screen her newest film, Greetings and Theses (or The Knight’s First Adventure), which features The Knight, or Lancela Palm-and-Steel, the artist’s first new performance persona in 40 years. She is the avatar of Mlle Bourgeoise Noire, picking up where MBN left off. But now instead of wearing 180 pairs of white gloves, she wears 40 pounds of plated steel surmounted by an 8-pound miniature palm.

Franco-Reunionnese activist, curator, and writer Françoise Vergès will speak about the state of permanent war waged since the advent of modernity against Black, indigenous, and all peoples of color, the cruelty that is a constant feature of anti-Black racism but which is compounded now with climate disaster and the resurgence of fascism, and the need for the creation of refuges and sanctuaries.

South African dancer and choreographer Nelisiwe Xaba will present a performance entitled Sakhozi says “NON” to the Venus, which weaves together the artist’s own biography with that of Sarah Baartman, a South African woman from the Khoikhoi tribe, who had been displayed in the 19th century circuses and exhibition shows across London and Paris under the pseudonym Hottentot Venus. Addressing issues of exotic voyeurism and xenophobia, the piece features a woman who travels to Europe and is allowed to stay only if she becomes a museum artefact.

Detroit-based filmmaker dream hampton will present Freshwater, a short film about her disappearing Black city, flooded basements, and the fluid nature of memory.

American scholar Zakiyyah Iman Jackson will present a talk entitled Prefiguration: Blackness and Perception that will explore the ways in which the history of blackness has been powered by the conflation of function and figuration in ways both searing and sublime. This talk will tarry with the function of anticipation and its consequence for figuring racialized gender.

Stella Nyanzi, a medical anthropologist, social justice activist, artist published and practiced in poetry, and opposition politician from Uganda but currently living in Germany, will present a talk exploring the themes of maroonage and sovereignty through the lens of her own political exile from Uganda, tracing the process of regaining and reclaiming freedom for creative critique and dissidence.

São Tomé-based poet, performer, and art educator Raquel Lima will present an experimental talk, shaped by her experience with Black movements in Portugal, to introduce intrasectionality as a concept under construction and a self-analysis tool for a political therapy that envisions autonomous organization and the rights for life, justice and peace against a system that oppresses racially. The objective is to seek ancestral views of social and political organizations that embrace ethics of care and self-care. This talk is dedicated to several actions of Black women in the scope of the anti-racist struggles in Portugal, by organizing it as a timeless collective body manifested through the five natural elements–water, fire, earth, air, and ether.

American filmmaker Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich will screen Spit on the Broom, a surrealist documentary that explores the margins of the history of the African American women’s group the United Order of Tents, a clandestine organization of Black women organized in the 1840s during the height of the Underground Railroad. The film uses excerpts from the public record, newspaper articles related to the Tents from over the course of 100 years, and a visual tapestry of fable and myth as a way to make visible a clandestine history while respecting its secrets.

French scholar Maboula Soumohoro and American scholar and translator Kaiama L. Glover will jointly offer a presentation entitled Trans(Re)lation: Blackness as Journey. This intervention will explore the possibilities emerging from the practice of translation, understood as a fundamental condition of Afro-diasporic exchange, circulation, and conversation.


Vanessa Agard-Jones (New York)
Mistura Allison (London & Milan)
Deborah Anzinger (Kingston)
Firelei Báez (New York)
Holly Bass (Washington, DC)
Black Quantum Futurism (Philadelphia)
Phoebe Boswell (London)
Rizvana Bradley (San Francisco)
Dionne Brand (Toronto)
Tarana Burke (Harlem, New York)
Tina Campt (New York)
Cecily (Washington, DC)
Aimee Meredith Cox (New York)
Javiela Evangelista (New York)
Ayana Evans (New York)
Denise Ferreira da Silva (Vancouver)
Ja’Tovia Monique Gary (Dallas)
aracelis girmay (Brooklyn)
Kaiama L. Glover (New York)
dream hampton (Detroit)
Saidiya Hartman (New York)
Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich (New York)
Leslie Hewitt (Houston and New York)
Zakiyyah Iman Jackson (Los Angeles)
Sandra Jackson-Dumont (Los Angeles)
Zara Julius (Johannesburg)
Lauren Kelley (New York and Houston)
Bouchra Khalili (Berlin and Paris)
Grada Kilomba (Berlin)
Daniella Rose King (London)
Autumn Knight (New York)
Negarra A. Kudumu (Seattle)
Las Nietas de Nonó (San Antón, Carolina, Puerto Rico)
Diane Lima (Salvador/São Paulo, Brazil)
Raquel Lima (São Tomé, São Tomé e Príncipe)
Gail Lewis (London)
Canisia Lubrin (Whitby, Canada)
Jessica Lynne (New York)
Tsedaye Makonnen (Washington, DC and London)
Nomaduma Rosa Masilela (Berlin)
Paloma McGregor (New York and St. Croix, USVI)
Maaza Mengiste (New York)
Nontsikelelo Mutiti (New Haven)
Kettly Noël (Bamako, Mali and Port-au-Prince, Haïti)
Stella Nyanzi (Munich)
Lorraine O’Grady (New York)
Okwui Okpokwasili (New York)
Senam Okudzeto (Basel, Switzerland)
Janaína Oliveira (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Oluremi C. Onabanjo (New York)
Olumide Popoola (London [of German-Nigerian background])
Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts (Dutchess County, New York)
Annette Lane Harrison Richter (Washington, DC)
Legacy Russell (New York)
Christina Sharpe (Toronto)
Lisa Marie Simmons (Lake Garda, Italy)
Maboula Soumahoro (Paris)
Tourmaline (New York)
Françoise Vergès (Paris)
Alberta Whittle (Glasgow)
Mabel O. Wilson (New York)
Nelisiwe Xaba (Johannesburg)

For more information, visit simoneleighvenice2022.org.

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