Simone Leigh in collaboration with Stuyvesant Mansion
Free People’s Medical Clinic
Simone Leigh is known for an object-based, sculptural exploration of female African American identity, with a practice informed by ancient African and African American object-making. Her Free People’s Medical Clinic (FPMC) engaged the critical intersections of public health, racial consciousness, and women’s work, asking viewers to consider the often-overlooked players—most especially the unknown Black women nurses, osteopaths, gynecologists, and midwives—who have overserved an underserved population for centuries. While the project name borrows from the Black Panthers’ community-based healthcare efforts in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, its gaze lingers on 19th century medical pioneers including Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Steward, the first Black woman doctor in N.Y. State and a Weeksville resident; The United Order of Tents, a secret fraternal order of Black Women nurses founded during the Civil War; and Dr. Josephine English, the first African-American woman to have an OB/GYN practice in the state of New York, delivering all six daughters of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz. Leigh converted the late Dr. English’s home at 375 Stuyvesant Avenue into a temporary space that explored the beauty, dignity and power of Black nurses and doctors, whose work is often hidden from view. Leigh’s FPMC pointed to a larger need for dignified healthcare experiences by offering a limited array of homeopathic and allopathic services ranging from yoga instruction to community acupuncture, all offered by Brooklyn-based practitioners.
375 Stuyvesant Avenue
near Decatur Street
Simone Leigh engages in an object-based, sculptural exploration of female African American subjectivity, informed by ancient African and African American object-making. With work that is at once highly abstracted and grounded in such timeless recognizable objects as the pottery jar or cowrie shell, Leigh challenges the boundaries between art and craft, and past and present, and her ceramic objects simultaneously evoke archaic and futuristic forms. Her art-making process is infused with the female history of object-making, yielding installations that simultaneously convey a sense of timeless drama and the intensity of her own subjective struggles.
Leigh was the subject of a one-person exhibition at The Kitchen, New York, and has shown her work at the Sculpture Center, Queens, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, among many other venues. She has been an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, as well as at Hunter College and the Henry Street Settlement, all in New York City. In 2011 Leigh was the recipient of a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant for Sculptors and in 2012 received the Creative Capital Grant for Visual Arts. Leigh lives and works in Brooklyn.
Built in 1914 by architects Henry P. Kirby & John J. Petit. The building was eventually bought by the family of Dr. Josephine English (1920-2011)—one of the first black, female OB/GYN doctors in New York State. It became a senior center that was photographed by Dinanda Nooney in 1978 and most recently a community center and intergenerational hub of artists, educators, activists, entrepreneurs, and youth of all socioeconomic backgrounds.
To accompany their artworks for Funk, God, Jazz & Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn, we asked all four participating artists to contribute playlists of music that inspired or evokes their commissions. Encompassing everything from the prolific brilliance of jazz performer Sun Ra to the witty hip-hop of Outkast, these soundtracks express both the common themes of the exhibition and the vibrant individuality of our featured artists.