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.