Simone Leigh’s The Waiting Room: art that tries to heal black women’s pain
The artists new exhibition pays tribute to Esmin Elizabeth Green, who died on the floor of a New York City hospital, by presenting an alternative vision of the US healthcare system
On 19 June 2008, 49 -year-old Esmin Elizabeth Green died in the waiting room of Kings County hospital center in Brooklyn. She had been waiting 24 hours to see a doctor, fell out of her chair, and died on the floor from blood clots that moved from her legs to her lungs. A surveillance video demonstrates security guards strolling past her as she lies motionless in the waiting room. A nurse checked her pulse 30 minutes after she died.
Eight years on, the New York artist Simone Leigh pays homage to Green in a new exhibition at the citys New Museum called The Waiting Room. Obedience is one of the main threats to black womens health; it was a survival mechanism that Green waited 24 hours before collapse, tells Leigh. What happened to Green is an example of the lack of empathy people have towards the ache of black women.
Leighs show offers an African American, female vision of healthcare as an alternative to the hugely expensive system in the US, dominated by insurance and medication companies swooping in upon the sick, exhausted and depressed all three of which described Green.
The project mines certain kinds of knowledge that are passed between black women, Leigh tells. I wanted to expand the idea of medicine to include other self-defense and care mechanisms like strategy, or even desire, as alternatives to the stamina and obedience that is expected as normative behaviour. Herbalism and dance would fall into the category of knowledge that defies the market and capitalization.
Honoring Green, the exhibition therefore includes a public health healing center that offers free workshops on holistic care and a six-week herbalism course, community acupuncture class and massage sessions alongside a series of health and wellness lecturings. These types of things would have helped prevent Esmin Green from running herself to death, tells Leigh. Green had worked as a caregiver for the elderly and at a childrens day care centre, sending fund back to her six kids in Jamaica. Its about cultivating a lifestyle that is more self-supporting.