Artist in Residence
“This is the third time in a number of years that I picked up a camera to take a portrait,” says Lorna Simpson, the award-winning photographer and multimedia artist who captured a series of portraits of her female contemporaries for Vogue. Her subjects span an array of mediums, identities, and professions—Pakistani sculptor Huma Bhabha sits in a shadow, assistant curator of contemporary art at the Whitney Museum of American Art Rujeko Hockley reclines in a shaft of sunlight on the stairs—but they all have one prominent thing in common: Simpson’s breathtaking admiration. “Some I have known forever, some not so long, and some whom I have not met personally until now,” Simpson says of photographing all 18 women in her personal studio in Brooklyn.
The space, already a place where much of her own work has come to fruition, has been near and dear to Simpson for 12 years. It was designed by the British-Ghanaian architect David Adjaye, whose most recent work was envisioning the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall, in Washington, D.C. The fact that Simpson’s studio serves as a multiuse hybrid (a place for work, mentoring, gatherings, celebrations, business, archiving, and contemplation) mirrors her affinity for her subjects: “For many of the women in my life, art is central to their life and work.”
Women like Teresita Fernández, often known for large-scale, public sculptures (and as the first Latina to serve on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, as appointed by President Obama), or Jacqueline Woodson, author of the best-selling memoir Brown Girl Dreaming and winner of the 2014 National Book Award. Simpson herself mirrors such accolades, as she was the first African-American woman to exhibit at the Venice Biennale in 1990 and, in 2001, was recognized with the Whitney Museum of American Art Award. “I have generally shied away from boxing the work that I do into set categories, but have always appreciated my freedom to make the work that I want to make at any point in my career,” Simpson says, of which these portraits are no exception.
Among all the educators, heads of institutions, musicians, poets, filmmakers, and writers featured, their resilience also sets them apart—and binds them to one another. “They don’t take no for an answer,” Simpson points out. “They are creative visionaries whose passions and work have shaped the cultural landscape.”