Not on view
Stoneware, steel frame, raffia, slip
Overall: 125 × 120 × 120in. (317.5 × 304.8 × 304.8 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Bridgitt and Bruce Evans
Rights and reproductions
Cupboard VIII is a monumental sculpture by the artist Simone Leigh made in 2018. Measuring at about 10 feet high, over half of the sculpture’s height consists of a towering, dome-shaped structure that rests flat on the ground. The entire surface of this structure is covered in four successive tiers of raffia, which gives it the appearance of a thatched roof or building, alluding to Leigh’s interest in North and West African vernacular architecture.
Out of the top of this domed structure emerges a bare female torso, whose arms are outstretched forward at about a 90 degree angle. The torso has been built out of stoneware and glazed a deep bronze color, exhibiting Leigh’s foundational training and skill as a ceramist. The fingers of each hand, which point upright and slightly towards one another, are flat and held tightly together, giving them a certain solidity, as though they would have the ability to hold water if it were to rain.
While the majority of the figure’s torso appears highly naturalistic, there is a rounded vessel in place of the woman’s head. This pot is nearly spherical in shape, and is about twice the size of a human head. It is set at a slight angle atop the figure’s neck, so that the rimmed opening of the vessel tilts up and slightly forward at a 75 degree angle. Given that the vessel is slightly wider at its mid-region, this subtle tilt gives the pot an almost round shape when viewed in profile. As the vessel is the same deep bronze color and material as the rest of the figure’s torso, the vessel seems to grow organically out of the figure’s neck. Therefore, in addition to the sculpture’s almost architectural construction, it also appears (especially from afar) as the monumental figure of a Black woman wearing a voluminous raffia skirt.
As a Black woman and scholar of Black feminist thought, Leigh has often noted that she sees Black women as the primary subjects of and audience for her work. Cupboard VIII embodies the ways in which Leigh seamlessly intertwines the symbolic and material histories of oppression, resistance, knowledge, and power embedded in Black femme subjectivity, while foregrounding the beauty, dignity and visibility of her subjects.