Dozens of art lovers gathered at the old Lee Circle in New Orleans on Saturday morning to watch the unveiling of a 12-foot-tall bronze sculpture by famed artist Simone Leigh. It was the grand finale of the Prospect.5 international art exhibition that kicked off in October.
Without fanfare, the sculpture was put in place earlier in the week, wrapped in a sheet of black plastic, leaving the public to speculate on its appearance. Now we can see it: an attenuated female figure with a drum-shaped head, wrapped in a huge snake. The Prospect.5 website says the work is intended as “a tribute to the history and continued presence of African Diaspora traditions in New Orleans.”
The site is protected by police barricades.
The tall, thin sculpture, titled “Sentinel (Mami Wata)”, roughly echoes the shape of the column in the center of the roundabout, which was topped by a statue of Robert E. Lee, leader of the Confederate Army in the Civil War. War. Lee’s statue was removed in 2017, sparking discussions about what might replace it.
One of the themes of the Prospect.5 exhibit was the search for alternative models for New Orleans landmarks, which were historically dedicated to mostly militaristic, often racist, white men. Other Prospect.5 outdoor sculptures can be found in Crescent Park, Joe W. Brown Park, on Esplanade Avenue, and the New Orleans African American Museum. These sites, along with the location of the Leigh sculpture, were sanctioned by Mayor LaToya Cantrell. , said a representative of the town hall.
On Thursday, Prospect executive director Nick Stillman said exhibit organizers initially considered hoisting Leigh’s sculpture atop the column where Lee’s statue stood. Although the installation would have been “spectacular,” Stillman said, the artist defended that his sculpture belonged closer to the ground, “at people’s level.”
Born in Chicago and based in New York, Leigh produces heroic ceramic and bronze sculptures of the black female form. A star of contemporary art, she will represent the United States at the Venice Biennale exhibition, the Art World Olympics, later this year.
Stillman said Leigh’s piece was temporary and would be retired on July 22. He hopes other artists will use the location for future works.
The Prospect series of art exhibitions began in 2008 and have been held every two or three years since. Prospect.5 exhibits continue through Sunday at the African American Museum of New Orleans, Ogden Museum of Art, Center for Contemporary Art, Newcomb Museum of Art and other locations. For more details, visit the Prospect.5 website.
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