Posted on January 28, 2022

Simone Leigh Statue of African Deity Installed at Former Site of Confederate Monument in New Orleans

Benjamin Sutton, Art Newspaper, January 24, 2022

Where a towering monument to Confederate general Robert E. Lee formerly loomed over a central traffic circle in New Orleans, now a sculpture of an African deity holds court. The sculpture Sentinel (Mami Wata) (2020-21) by Simone Leigh, the celebrated artist representing the US at this year’s Venice Biennale, was unveiled on 22 January at the base of the column upon which the Lee statue once stood in the centre of a traffic circle formerly known as Lee Circle. The work’s installation was part of the final weekend of programming for the fifth edition of the Prospect New Orleans triennial, curated by Naima J. Keith and Diana Nawi.

“The Robert E. Lee monument was a menacing white supremacist presence that loomed over the city; this placement is a rejection of that symbolism,” the co-curators said in a joint statement. “The decision to temporarily place Simone’s work at the base of the pedestal points to the desire for new monuments to emerge from artist practices, the public’s imagination, the work of activists and the breadth of cultural practices that define this city.”

Leigh’s sculpture represents Mami Wata, a water deity or spirit who recurs across multiple African diasporic communities {snip} The work’s form is based on the shape of a ceremonial spoon, a symbol of status in Zulu culture, which has strong ties to New Orleans {snip}

The site’s bronze Lee statue was the last of four prominent monuments to Confederate and white supremacist figures and events taken down around New Orleans in 2017. {snip}