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The convening will bring together black women  thinkers, performers, writers, and artists 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 expands its presentation of artist Simone Leigh’s work this fall with Loophole of Retreat: Venice, a convening of Black women intellectuals – performers, writers, filmmakers  artists, and activists – that will take place from the 7th till the 9th of October at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini. The project is an extension of the critically acclaimed 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, and reflects the collaborative ethos that is characteristic of artist Simone Leigh’s practice.  

The three-day symposium is organised by Rashida Bumbray, director of Culture and Art at the Open Society Foundations, 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.

Loophole of Retreat: Venice builds on an eponymous one-day convening held in 2019 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The conceptual frame is drawn from the 1861 autobiography of Harriet Jacobs, a formerly enslaved woman who, for seven years after her escape, lived in a crawlspace she described as a “loophole of retreat.” Jacobs claimed this site as simultaneously an enclosure and a space for enacting practices of freedom – practices of thinking, planning, writing, and imagining new forms of freedom. 

“Leigh is committed to the lineage of Black women artists and intellectuals that make her practice possible. As such, in connection with her exhibition at the U.S. Pavilion in Venice, she continues her work of making Black women’s intellectual labor more visible. Loophole of Retreat will elevate a global conversation on Black feminist thought in order to nurture the intergenerational and interdisciplinary connections between Black women thinkers and makers,” said Bumbray.  

Loophole of Retreat: Venice will feature a global roster of participants that includes visual artist Deborah Anzinger (Jamaica); cultural anthropologist, dancer, and choreographer Aimee Meredith Cox (U.S.); filmmaker Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich (U.S.); filmmaker Gessica Geneus (Haiti); visual artist Bouchra Khalili (Morocco); poet Raquel Lima (Portugal); choreographer Paloma McGregor (St. Croix /U.S.), multidisciplinary collective Black Quantum Futurism (U.S.); choreographer Kettly Noël (Haiti/Mali), medical anthropologist Stella Nyanzi (Uganda); artist Lorraine O’Grady (U.S.); writer Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts (U.S.); and choreographer Nelisiwe Xaba (South Africa); among others. See full list below. 

The symposium will feature performances, film screenings, and conversations organised around key directives, including: 

Maroonage: Maroons refer to the people who escaped slavery and created independent communities on the outskirts of enslaved communities. The maroonage directive is informed by the artist Deborah Anzinger’s explorations of fugitivity and resistance in Jamaica’s Cockpit Country, which is a site of historical refuge and resistance for Maroons. 

ManualThis directive is inspired by the Manual for General Housework from Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval.  

Magical Realism: Magically real forms are the music, literature, and movement languages developed by Black people in the New World as a result of the catastrophes of colonialism and the middle passage.   

MedicineThis directive is inspired by how we cope with the natural and supernatural world around us. It draws on our approaches to diverse ailments; physical, spiritual, natural, and supernatural. For this gathering, we consider the work of root and leaf doctors, traditional healers and conjurors of the rural Black American South and the global South.  

SovereigntyThe title of the U.S. Pavilion exhibition, Sovereignty, speaks to notions of self-determination, self-governance and independence for both the intellectual and the collaborative.  


Aimee Meredith Cox 
Annette Lane Harrison Richter  
Aracelis Girmay 
Autumn Knight 
Ayana Evans 
Black Quantum Futurism 
Bouchra Khalili 
Canisia Lubrin 
Cecily Bumbray 
Christina Sharpe 
Daniella Rose King 
Deborah Anzinger 
Denise Ferreira da Silva 
Diane Sousa da Silva Lima
Dionne Brand 
dream hampton 
Firelei Baez 
Françoise Vergès 
Gail Lewis 
Gessica Geneus 
Gloria Wekker 
Grada Kilomba 
Holly Bass 
Ja’Tovia Gary 
Janaína Oliveira 
Javiela Evangelista 
Jessica Lynne 
Kettly Noël 
Las Nietas de Nonó 
Legacy Russell 
Leslie Hewitt 
Lisa Marie Simmons 
Lorraine O’Grady 
Maaza Mengiste 
Mabel O. Wilson 
Maboula Soumahoro 
Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich 
Mistura Allison 
Negarra A. Kudumu 
Nelisiwe Xaba 
Nomaduma Masilela 
Nontsikelelo Mutiti 
Nora Chipaumire 
Okwui Okpokwasili 
Olumide Popoola 
Oluremi Onabanjo 
Paloma McGregor 
Phoebe Boswell 
Raquel Lima 
Rizvana Bradley 
Robin Coste Lewis 
Saidiya Hartman 
Sandra Jackson Dumont 
Senam Okudzeto 
Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts 
Stella Nyanzi 
Tarana Burke 
Tina Campt 
Tsedaye Makonnen 
Zakiyyah Iman Jackson 
Zara Julius  

Simone Leigh (b. 1967, Chicago, IL) has created an expansive body of work in sculpture, video, and performance, over the past two decades, that centres Black femme interiority. Inflected by Black feminist theory, Leigh’s practice intervenes imaginatively to fill gaps in the historical record by proposing new hybridities. Leigh’s sculptural works join forms derived from vernacular architecture and the female body, rendering them via materials and processes associated with the artistic traditions of Africa and the African diaspora. The collaborative ethos that characterises Leigh’s videos and public programs pays homage to a long history of Black female collectivity, communality, and care. In 2019, Leigh was the first artist commissioned for the High Line Plinth, New York. Recent exhibitions include The Hugo Boss Prize 2018: Simone LeighLoophole of Retreat at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2019); the 2019 Whitney Biennial; Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon (2017) at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; Psychic Friends Network (2016) at Tate Exchange, Tate Modern, London; Hammer Projects: Simone Leigh (2016–17) at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; inHarlem: Simone Leigh (2016–17), a public installation presented by The Studio Museum in Harlem at Marcus Garvey Park, New York; The Waiting Room (2016) at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; and Free People’s Medical Clinic (2014), a project commissioned by Creative Time. Leigh’s work is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; Cleveland Museum of Art; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; and the ICA/Boston, among others.  

The works that comprise Leigh’s exhibition for the U.S. Pavilion will be featured in her first museum survey exhibition at the ICA in 2023, which will subsequently tour to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. (Fall/Winter 2023/24), and a joint presentation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and California African American Museum (CAAM) in Spring/Summer 2024 in Los Angeles, CA. The exhibition will be accompanied by the first comprehensive monograph dedicated to Leigh’s work.  

Rashida Bumbray is director of Culture and Art, the Open Society Foundations’ program dedicated to advancing diverse artistic practices and strengthening locally led cultural spaces around the world. Since joining the Open Society Foundations in 2015, Bumbray has launched and overseen many new grant-making initiatives in global contexts including the Global Initiative for the Restitution of African Cultural Heritage, the Soros Arts Fellowship and the OSF Arts Forum on Art, Public Space and Closing Societies. With colleagues from Haiti’s FOKAL, she helped to inaugurate a new Caribbean cultural foundation, and in collaboration with Open Society-US, she established the Alternative Monuments Initiative. Bumbray began her curatorial career in 2001 at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, where she coordinated major exhibitions including Frequency (2005) and Freestyle (2001). As associate curator at The Kitchen, New York, Bumbray organised critically acclaimed exhibitions and commissions including Simone Leigh’s solo exhibition You Don’t Know Where Her Mouth Has Been (2012), among many others. She was guest curator of Creative Time’s public art exhibition Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn in 2014, which included Leigh’s Free Peoples’ Medical Clinic. Bumbray is also an accomplished choreographer whose practice draws from traditional African American vernacular and folk forms. Her performances have been presented by Tate Modern, London; the New Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harlem Stage, and SummerStage, all in New York; and Project Row Houses, Houston.  

For more information, please visit simoneleighvenice2022.org.

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