August 2016

Artist Imagines A Healthcare System That Doesn’t Fail Women Of Color



“The Waiting Room" at the New Museum in New York is the latest work of artist Simone Leigh. Through this piece she pays tribute to the life of Esmin Elizabeth Green who spent 24 hours in a hospital waiting room expecting to be seen, and collapsed after a blood clot in her leg spread to her lungs. The hospital’s surveillance footage showed hospital’s staff negligence towards her that resulted in her losing her life in the waiting room floor. 

In “The Waiting Room”, Leigh demands that the concerns, roles, and rights of women of color be recognized as central, rather than pushed to the margins. For her exhibition and residency at the New Museum, the artist considers the possibilities of disobedience, desire, and self-determination as they manifest in resistance to an imposed state of deferral and debasement. Whereas discourses of patience, pragmatism, and austerity often underscore political debates surrounding the failures of public health care and related conditions, Leigh finds inspiration in parallel histories of urgency, agency, and intervention within social movements and black communities, past and present. Troubling the notion of separate narratives, she implicates violent, institutionalized control and indifference as the conditions under which forms of self care and social care can become radical or alternative.

Focusing specifically on an expanded notion of medicine, “The Waiting Room” references a wide range of care environments and opportunities—from herbalist apothecaries and muthi[medicine] markets in Durban, South Africa, to meditation rooms and movement studios—and involves a variety of public and private workshops and healing treatments that the artist refers to as “care sessions.” Blurring the distinction between bodily and spiritual health, or between wellness and happiness—and, in doing so, countering the perception of holistic care as a luxury good—Leigh has convened practitioners who view social justice as integral to their work. The all women led “care sessions”, evoke the words of writer and activist Audre Lorde when she wrote: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Leigh's installation inaugurates the Department of Education and Public Engagement’s annual R&D Summers, a research and development residency and exhibition program that will foreground the New Museum’s year-round commitment to community partnerships and to public dialogue at the intersection of art and social justice.

“The Waiting Room” is on view until Sept. 18, 2016 at the New Museum in New York. For care sessions and public lectures visit:

For the Huffington Post article see:

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