Entering Simone Leigh’s show at The Kitchen—“You Don’t Know Where Her Mouth Has Been”-- is an enveloping experience, in terms of its visual power. The gallery space is sparse, dramatic, and the rich selection of sculptures and video loops included appear like well-lit jewels in a curio cabinet. Imposing hanging sculptures, comprised of clusters of such materials as terracotta, stoneware, salt, glass, and the pedestal-mounted ceramic pieces punctuate the darkness. The chandeliers in particular lead to the inevitable craning of one’s neck while standing directly below, like with "You Don't Know Where Her Mouth Has Been", a piece featuring large-scale cowrie shells of stoneware and porcelain (from which the exhibition title is taken), with violent wire spikes radiating from the great cluster. Indeed, motifs of seduction and violence seem to be on Leigh’s art agenda.
“You Don’t Know Where Her Mouth Has Been” features works that are nurturing, yet aggressive. They employ an 'essential' set of symbols: cowrie shells, breasts, tobacco leaves, flowers, calling to mind the various topics of maternity, womanhood, traditional craft, condemnation of female sexuality, and the experience of African heritage. Whether in the magnified intricacies of her suspended sculptures, or in the video loops (one featuring the bare back of a woman on her side, head covered in small stones, simply breathing), this show inspires a nearly visceral reaction. The gamut of cultural associations that can be drawn from the pieces is complex and individual to the viewer, as is the emotional reaction. To feel aroused, empathetic, and attacked at once makes me sense that Leigh’s offering is immense, and personally encompassing. Without literal statement, she allows her symbols of womanhood and culture to speak for themselves, and they threaten to do so, sweetly.