Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter @ New Museum
During her residency at the New Museum, artist Simone Leigh formed a collective known as Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter (@BWMforBLM) in response to heal one another, fight, and stand by Black Lives Matter. Simone Leigh’s exhibition Waiting Room, featured a herbalist apothecary. As part of her residency, Leigh partnered with local organizations to lead healing workshops, meditation sessions, performances, self-defense, and home economics classes.
The scents in the apothecary made me more conscious of my breath. I inhaled and exhaled deeply as I walked past the rows of glass jars holding plants capable of healing. Being surrounded by many herbs Leigh collected from all over the world brought back images of my grandmother in the Dominican Republic rummaging through her cabinets for te de tilo to cure my insomnia. “Bota esa medicina!” she’d say, about the pills I was prescribed at fourteen to help carry me to sleep, and instead offered me a chamomile tea concoction. Mama had a deep respect for natural healing, taking the time to understand the body, and warned against blurring illness with pharmaceutical medication.
On September 1, I waited in the lobby of the New Museum to share a moment with Black Women Artists. The group of women wore a ceremonious red, swayed left and right chanting a call and response: “End the war on Black people,” followed by “It’s time.” It was proactive, restorative, and a form of theatrical resistance. About every 30 minutes or so, women read guiding principles of Black Lives Matter, demands, and the names of Black women that have been targeted and killed, like Sandra Bland who was found hanged in a jail cell after being pulled over for a minor traffic violation.
Black Lives Matter is committed to broadening the definition of what exactly constitutes violence against Black lives. Black poverty, genocide, imprisonment, and Black women being held emotionally hostage by carrying the burden of continued attacks on their children and families are all forms of violence. Saying each name out loud returned power, meaning, and presence to it. Speaking their names had each person in the room thinking about what she might have been like, her contribution to her community, those that needed and loved her on a daily basis, her energy, and the time she was robbed of.
I purchased a pin and a t-shirt that evening. I am often stared at, questioned, or complimented when I wear either one. I love that it sparks dialogue between strangers, new information is shared, and, misconceptions are dispelled. That night at the museum, I was made full of solidarity, compassion, peace, and love for my sisters in a time that is all too perilous for Black lives. Art is powerful in that way. It can change hearts, minds, and wake people up from a convenient slumber. Simone Leigh’s work is about waking up, self-love, and respect for the lives of Black women.
“The event was by us and for us. Some people have asked me: What is the goal of Black Women Artists? We support Black Lives Matter. Other than that, we insist that we don’t know. We will have varied goals and outcomes along the way. We’re not trying to meet some benchmark. That’s why it’s art.” – Simone Leigh