Born in Chicago to Jamaican missionaries, Leigh studied at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. She moved to New York and got a job creating ceramic tiles at an architectural firm for the city’s subway. In 2010, she took advantage of the artist residency program at the Studio Museum in Harlem; that combined with her 2014 project, Free People’s Medical Clinic, a historical inquiry into the United Order of Tents (a secret order formed in 1867 by two formerly enslaved people for Black women nurses), which turned Stuyvesant Mansion in Brooklyn into a functioning medical center, propelled her work into the spotlight.
Best known for her sculptures that include cowrie shells, which Leigh once said served as a “stand-in for the female body, or a body in general, or a representation of an absence as well as a presence.”
Leigh’s work has been exhibited at the New Museum (New York), Hammer Museum (LA) and Crystal Bridges. Leigh will be representing the United States at the Venice Biennale in 2022, making her the first black woman to ever do so.