American, born 1967
Simone Leigh uses sculpture, video, installation, and performance art to explore representations of Black feminine forms. Her work draws upon the African diaspora—cultures and people that originated in the African continent and circulated either through forced or voluntary means around the world. Within this framework, Leigh appropriates visual traditions from Africa, the American south, and the Caribbean to create works that reflect the many histories, identities, and experiences that compose the diaspora.
Leigh began her artistic career while studying philosophy in college. On a whim, she took a ceramics class and soon developed proficiency in pottery techniques, despite never attending art school. Her early interest in issues of race and beauty inspired exquisite sculptures of Black women that would later manifest as Leigh’s renowned creolization of forms.
Her sculptures are often anthropomorphic, fusing Black female figures with everyday objects or tools, and occasional modern references. Sentinel IV is modeled after a Zulu ceremonial spoon, a utensil that conveys status among the Zulu people and symbolizes women’s labor. In taking inspiration from figurative sculpture across the African diaspora, Leigh chooses to represent not a single individual, but rather the collective power of the Black female body more broadly.
Sentinel IV is a slender bronze guardian with elongated proportions and faceless bowl crown that exudes a mystical presence. In using the term “sentinel”—a person or thing that stands watch—Leigh honors Black femininity while also investigating historical and intersecting ideas of race, beauty, and the association of Black women’s bodies with work.
Sited in the central courtyard of the Anna Hiss Gymnasium, Sentinel IV stakes radical claim to existence in a moment when Black existence, in particular, is persistently under threat. It holds space and holds court—an apt landmark poised to see, hear, and represent—to project Black presence into the future of The University of Texas at Austin and beyond, bearing witness to this indelible present.
Location: Anna Hiss Gymnasium Courtyard (AHG)
GPS: 30.28855, -97.73785