The Chorus


Simone Leigh

In her Raid the Icebox Now installation, Simone Leigh places modern and contemporary works by Janine Antoni, Huma Bhabha, David Hammons, and Nancy Elizabeth Prophet in the RISD Museum’s ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian galleries. These objects are accompanied by Leigh’s own art: a new ceramic female portrait sculpture and a new sound work. The latter piece, Chorus, features the voices of five black women, including the artist, reading texts by scholar Saidiya Hartman, historian Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts (also one of the speakers), and artist Nancy Elizabeth Prophet. Prophet’s work in particular has become a touchstone for Leigh, and here Chorus joins photographs of and diary excerpts by Prophet, images of the sculptures Leigh selected from the RISD Museum collection, and Rhodes-Pitts’s text.

 

 

The Chorus reflects artist Simone Leigh’s commitment to sculpturally shaping and defining the presence
and voices of women of color throughout history. A sound installation plays in each gallery the exhibition
occupies. In it, artists, writers, curators, and historians read excerpts from Saidiya Hartman’s essay “Manual
for General Housework” (2019), sculptor Nancy Elizabeth Prophet’s diaries from her time in Paris (1922–1934),
and new text created for this project by historian Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts. This multiplicity of voices alludes to
the chorus found in ancient Greek drama. It also suggests Hartman’s description of the chorus as “all the
unnamed young women of the city trying to find a way to live and in search of beauty.” The readings contemplate
the experiences and torments of people of color—particularly women—engaged in manual labor willingly or under
varying degrees of duress. This exploration continues across several areas with the presentation of new figurative
work by Leigh and sculptures from the museum collection by Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Janine Antoni, and Huma
Bhabha in the galleries ahead and a work by David Hammons in the Egyptian gallery on the 6th floor. Together,
they consider approaches artists have shared over thousands of years and question how instances of colonialism
and cultural imperialism seen in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome continue to frame contemporary experiences.

The soundwork in this installation includes mature, racially charged language that directly conveys the intense
personal experiences of the women of color who wrote it.

 

 

 

   Listen

 

            Simone Leigh, Chorus, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

0:00         Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts reading her text : Boulevard de Magenta

4:47         Simone Leigh reading from: Nancy Elizabeth Prophet diaries

17:43      Rashida Bumbray reading from: Manual for General Housework by Saidiya Hartman

23:57      Simone Leigh and Rashida Bumbray reading from: Nancy Elizabeth Prophet diaries

37:40      Nontsikelelo Mutiti reading from: Manual for General Housework by Saidiya Hartman

45:00      Rashida Bumbray reading from: Nancy Elizabeth Prophet diaries

57:51      Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts reading her text : Boulevard de Magenta

62:38      Deborah Anzinger and Simone Leigh reading from: Nancy Elizabeth Prophet diaries

79:40      Deborah Anzinger reading from: Manual for General Housework by Saidiya Hartman

81:18      Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts reading from: Nancy Elizabeth Prophet Diaries 

86:36     Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts reading from Sharifa Rhodes-Pitt's text: Boulevard de Magenta

102:04  Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Rashida Bumbray and Simone Leigh reading from: Nancy Elizabeth Prophet Diaries

113:30  Nontsikolelo Mutiti reading from: Manual for General Housework by Saidiya Hartman


 

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Unknown, Prophet in her Studio, 1938

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Unknown, Portrait in Newport, 1932

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet aboard the S.S. De Grasse

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Prophet Seated in Room, 1932

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Unknown, Portrait of Self, 1932

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handwritten page from Nancy Elizabeth Prophet diary

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Unknown, Prophet in Striped Shirt with Hat, 1950

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Unknown, Nancy Elizabeth Prophet with classmates at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, 1924

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Unknown, Prophet in Paris, 1924

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Unknown, "Atlanta, GA; Illy Apartment." Prophet with Collection of Books and Art, 1938

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Congolais (front view), 1931

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Confidence

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet wearing black with clouds in the background

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Diary text

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portrait of Nancy Elizabeth Prophet in profile

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet reclining with her work

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet sitting in a stairwell

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Head (over life-size) (profile view), 1958

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet seated

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet aboard the S.S. La France

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet aboard the S.S. De Grasse

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Head of a Cossack, 1929–39

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet in black with trees

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet bust of a man titled "Poise"

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Negro Head, 1923–27

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Diary page white

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Poverty/Prayer, 1926

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Taille Direct in Alabaster, 1944

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Untitled Mask, 1959

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet sculpture of a woman with crossed arms titled "The Reptile Woman"

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Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Untitled, 1958

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quote by Nancy Elizabeth Prophet that reads "Dec 22, '25, Cutting Stone. How I love it working alone, I feel so much in contact with myself."

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Installation shot of Nancy Elizabeth Prophet's "Silence" in the Greek and Roman gallery

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Installation shot of Janine Antoni's "Chocolate Gnaw" in the Greek and Roman gallery

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Installation shot of David Hammons "Rock Head" sculpture on view in the Egyptian gallery

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Installation shot of Huma Bhabha "Ghost" sculpture on view in the Greek and Roman gallery

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Installation shot of Simone Leigh "108 (Face Jug Series)" sculpture on view in the Greek and Roman gallery

Simone Leigh, 108 (Face Jug Series), 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

All archival photographs of Prophet and her work are from the Nancy Elizabeth Prophet Collection,
James P. Adams Library, Rhode Island College and are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Pages from the Nancy Elizabeth Prophet diary, 1922-1934, Paris, France, are from the Brown University Library.  

 

Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Silence, 1920s. Gift of Miss Ellen D. Sharpe.

David Hammons, Rock Head, 2000. Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund.

Huma Bhabha, Ghost, 2008. Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund.
Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94, New York.

Janine Antoni, Chocolate Gnaw (maquette), 1992. Gift of Aaron Richard Golub.
© Janine Antoni; Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York 

Simone Leigh, 108 (Face Jug Series), 2019.
Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

 

 

Cite this article as

Chicago Style

MLA Style

Created under the direction of Simone Leigh, this chapter accompanies the exhibition Raid the Icebox Now with Simone Leigh: The Chorus, on view at the RISD Museum October 18, 2019–June 28, 2020. Creative direction by Carolyn Gennari. Curatorial support by Dominic Molon. Design by Brendan Campbell. Additional production support by Jeremy Radtke.

Our understanding of Andy Warhol's project and RISD at that time was made possible through the rich holdings of RISD Archives and the support of Andrew Martinez and Douglas Doe.

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