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Simone Leigh’s “Free People’s Medical Clinic”

7 Oct 2014

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Visitors at the Free People’s Medical Clinic interact with visiting nurses from the Black Nurse Association of New York. Image courtesy of Creative Time.

Artist and friend of Ballroom, Simone Leigh has teamed up with Creative Time and the Weeksville Heritage Center as part of the organizations’ Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn project, which is described as:

a walkable month-long art exhibition of four community based art commissions…. (which) launches from the site of Weeksville, a Brooklyn community established by free and formerly enslaved Black citizens 11 years after abolition in New York State. Black Radical Brooklyn draws inspiration not only from this story-achieving self-determination through the claiming and holding of a neighborhood- but also from radical local battles for land and dignity from the 1960s to today.”

Leigh’s contribution is the Free People’s Medical Clinic (the “medicine” from the project’s title).

As described by Creative Time, the Free People’s Medical Clinic (FPMC) will:

engage the critical intersections of public health, racial consciousness, and women’s work as it asks viewers to consider the often-overlooked players—most especially the unknown Black women nurses, osteopaths, gynecologists, and midwives—who have overserved an underserved population for centuries. While the project name borrows from the Black Panthers’ community-based healthcare efforts in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, its gaze lingers on 19th century medical pioneers including Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Steward, the first Black woman doctor in NY State and a Weeksville resident; The United Order of Tents, a secret fraternal order of Black Women nurses founded during the Civil War; and Dr. Josephine English, the first African-American woman to have an OB/GYN practice in the state of New York, delivering all six daughters of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz. Leigh will convert the late Dr. English’s home at 375 Stuyvesant Avenue into a temporary space that explores the beauty, dignity and power of Black nurses and doctors, whose work is often hidden from view. Leigh’s FPMC will point to a larger need for dignified healthcare experiences by offering a limited array of homeopathic and allopathic services ranging from yoga instruction to community acupuncture, all offered by Brooklyn-based practitioners.

The FPMC‘s classes will continue until the project’s end on October 20th, 2014. Other artists involved include Xenobia Bailey (Funk), Bradford Young (God), and Otabenga Jones & Associates (Jazz).

Art Practical on Simone Leigh

29 Apr 2013

Uhura from Simone Leigh on Vimeo.

From Art Practical:

“The video piece Uhura (Tanka) (2012) stars the author Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts playing Nyota Uhura, the United States of Africa–born communications officer aboard the USS Enterprise in the original Star Trek series. Leigh recalls time spent as a child watching Star Trek and patiently waiting for Uhura to speak: “I had to deal with the conundrum that she mostly repeated one line,” she remembers. The Uhura in Leigh’s piece also remains silent, dutifully pressing buttons and congenially smiling. Nichelle Nichols, who played the original Uhura, holds an unsung but significant place in African American history and is often cited as one of the first black female television characters in the United States that wasn’t a domestic worker. On November 22, 1968, during the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren,” Nichols and her co-star William Shatner performed American television’s first scripted interracial kiss. While it could be easy to miss the significance of this in something as banal as Star Trek, Nichols recalls that when she was thinking of quitting the show, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told her, “[Uhura] is not a black role or a female role. You have the first non-stereotypical role on television. You have broken ground…We look on that screen and we know where we’re going.”

Read the rest of Matthew Harrison Tedford’s profile of Ballroom alumna Leigh at Art Practical. Leigh will speak on May 1, 2013, at 7:00 p.m. at Nahl Hall at the California College of the Arts Oakland campus.