What the artist’s sculptures and explorations of healthcare share in common: a focus on the body. “If you’re interested in the body and survival, eventually you get around to thinking about this idea of care,” she says. Moreover, the clinic bears Leigh’s masterful eye for space, texture, and juxtaposition. Video montages and documentaries of past works loop in one corner of the room, and at the other end, across from a grid of meditation mats, sits an invitingly staffed makeshift apothecary, whose rows of dried plants evoke South African marketplaces and herbalist pharmacies of yore.
It’s not the objects or visuals that command your attention, however, but rather the warmth and vital energy that course through the space, often thanks to Leigh herself, who spends a lot of time at the museum, speaking with visitors and participating in the workshops. “I’m looking forward to the whole project evolving,” she says. “It’s really a project for me, not an art installation.”
The most pointed aspect of the work might be its title, which refers to a Brooklyn woman, Esmin Green, who died on the floor of an emergency room waiting area, seeking care that never came. It also invokes the physical and psychological toll of waiting more broadly. “There’s this expectation of black women to be behind or come last,” she says. As the spectre of black death fills our streets, social networks, and psyches, and activist movements grapple with their own complicated gender dynamics, Leigh is gently coaxing a conversation that could not be more timely.
The exhibition-cum-residency has its roots in Leigh’s Free People’s Medical Clinic, a public project mounted in 2014 with nonprofit Creative Time and the Weeksville Heritage Center. Prompted to mine Brooklyn’s rich history of radical black self-determination, Leigh found inspiration in several local legacies of separatist healthcare, including the Black Panther Party’s famed free clinics and the United Order of Tents, an organization founded by female former slaves after the Civil War which, operating in secret, has provided shelter, food, and nursing care to black populations. The resulting project was essentially a reenactment of the Panthers’ clinics, held in the former Bed-Stuy home of Dr. Josephine English, the first black OB/GYN in New York (and midwife to Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X).