Sentinel (Mami Wata)

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Sentinel (Mami Wata)


Simone Leigh

Simone Leigh works primarily in sculpture, installation, video and public practice; all are informed by her ongoing exploration of black female-identified subjectivity. Leigh works in a mode she describes as “auto-ethnographic.” Her sculptural practice draws on materials and forms traditionally associated with African art, while her performance-influenced installations bring historical precedent and self-determination together. Through her investigations of visual overlap between cultures, time periods, and geographies, she examines and reveals relationships between ideas about  the female body, race, beauty, and community. Leigh earned a BA in art and philosophy from Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, in 1990. She has had solo exhibitions at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and the New Museum, New York, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, recently held her solo exhibition Loophole of Retreat in 2019 following her award of the 2018 Hugo Boss Prize. Her work is found in the collections of Guggenheim Museum, Hammer Museum, and Pérez Art Museum Miami, among others

Courtesy Prospect New Orleans.


Tivoli Circle, New Orleans, LA 70130


Created 2020-21; Documented 2022


Photographer(s): Alex Marks, Neysa Page-Lieberman


Sentinel (Mami Wata) is a bronze sculpture created for the citywide art exhibition Prospect.5, New Orleans, LA. The sculpture represents an African deity, while its form is shaped after a ceremonial spoon.


Created for the citywide art exhibition Prospect.5, Simone Leigh’s bronze sculpture Sentinel (Mami Wata) is sited at the base of the pedestal that once held a monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The title of this work means “guard” or “watchman,” and it honors the work done by activists, citizens, and New Orleans city officials to remove symbols of white supremacy from public view, while also suggesting the possibility for a new protective spirit at this central downtown location. Sentinel (Mami Wata) takes the diversity of African cultures in New Orleans as a starting point, evoking African folklore and spiritualities. Mami Wata, a water spirit or deity, is known under many names across the African diaspora, including Yemaya, Yemoja, and Iemanja. Leigh’s sculpture holds forms of knowledge that have been passed down through spiritual and masking traditions in the city and beyond, wherein masking signifies transformation, not simply concealment.

Celebrating rituals and practices throughout the African diaspora that includes New Orleans, Sentinel (Mami Wata) marks a new chapter in the history of the renamed Egalité Circle, wherein the site represents one point in a larger constellation of public art, conversation, and historical memory. This constellation decenters whiteness and the legacies of colonialism, renewing access to knowledge and culture that has been suppressed by the falsehoods of white supremacy. Rather than perched atop the imposing multistory column that served as the pedestal for the Lee monument, this new work of art sits at ground level, not looming over people but emerging from among us. Leigh's sculpture is a temporary proposal for what could stand in the place of the previous monument—Sentinel (Mami Wata) will remain at Egalité Circle for a brief period before making space for other histories and narratives.

Courtesy Prospect New Orleans.


Black Feminism, Women Healers, Black Lives Matter


This project was specifically commissioned for Prospect.5: Yesterday we said tomorrow, 2021–22. Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks.




Artist: Simone Leigh; Photographer(s): Alex Marks, Neysa Page-Lieberman