This issue ofThe Colorful Canvas Files is brought to you by prolific artist, photographer and filmmaker, Lorna Simpson. Widely considered a pioneer of conceptual photography, Simpson has continually pushed the limits of photography for nearly 3 decades to address standard (and stagnant) perspectives on gender, culture as well as society. Lorna Simpson’s genius stems from her progressive vision, sophisticated feminist viewpoint. Combined with her gift of visual interpretation and innate understanding of photography’s fluid nature Simpson’s is a rare talent, which captures a unique female, African American perspective within the rigid confines of American culture.
An only child, Lorna Simpson was born on August 13, 1960 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY. Her creative capacity was recognized early on, granting her entrance to the High School of Art and Design, followed by the School of Visual Arts in NYC where she received a BFA in1982.
A true visionary, it was during Simpson’s undergrad years that she began to seek out that which resonated with her personal values and artistic vision.
Disappointed by the absence of an African American presence in the contemporary art world, Lorna acquired an internship at the famed Studio Museum in Harlem to align herself with like-minded creatives.
It was also during this time that Simpson shifted her focus from painting to photography and attended the University of California, San Diego to receive her MFA.
Though resistant to labels, it’s commonly known that Lorna Simpson began her career as a documentary street photographer and spent the first decade of her career deconstructing contemporary issues in society. According to Simpson herself, she has always used “the African-American woman as a visual point of departure to examine the ways in which gender and culture shape the interactions, relationships and experiences of our lives in contemporary multi-racial America.”
One powerful example is of Simpson’s 1989 work, Necklines, which has been described as:
Two circular and identical photographs of a black woman’s mouth, chin, neck, and collarbone. The white text, “ring, surround, lasso, noose, eye, areola, halo, cuffs, collar, loop.” Individual words on black plaques imply menace, binding or worse. The final phrase, text on red “feel the ground sliding from under you,” openly suggests lynching, though the adjacent images remain serene, non-confrontational and elegant.*
Since her entrance into the art world, leading institutions such as the MOMA, Studio Museum, and the Whitney vied for the opportunity to display Simpson’s work and in 1990 Lorna became the first African American woman to be exhibited in the renowned Venice Biennale. However, in the spirit of a true pioneer, Lorna Simpson continually carved her niche as an enduring force in the arts – perpetually taking it to the next level and uncovering new visual fusions to express her convictions.
During an interview, Simpson explained to Essence, “People hold certain expectations about my work, but outside expectations can be paralyzing.” I always feel more confident when I’ve listened to my own intuition.” Making a departure from the photo-text format, Simpson added film work to her moving collection by the late 90’s. “Duet,” an early film by Simpson explored the challenge that countless Black women face in finding an authentic language and mode of self-expression.
One of the most revered artists of her time, Lorna Simpson has been exhibited globally including: the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Miami Art Museum; the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Documenta XI in Kassel, Germany and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. Most recently Simpson had a solo exhibition at Salon94, New York, in 2008 and a solo exhibition at Obadia Galerie, Paris, in 2009. In 2010, she received the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Award in Art.
Simpson’s body of work is about as complex as they come, but there remains one common and inspiring theme that resonates through it all: The value of uncovering and communicating one’s own truth. By rejecting the confines of the status quo, Simpson traveled the road towards intellectual and artistic freedom, and gained international acclaim in the process.
For more details and imagery, visit Lorna Simpson’s official website.