The Divine Revelation


Leena Similu puts her sense of self above all else

Kun Kum Kum (2022), further celebrates her own exploration of her West African heritage through a modern lens.

L.A.-based artist Leena Similu’s perspective as a sculptor was not directly inspired by a mentor or an artist she studied; rather, the work is an unconscious reflection of her inner exploration and African roots. “Pending motherhood obliges you to look inward as part of the inevitable activation of what’s to be an identity transition,” she recalls. “You are reborn yourself in a way while you navigate the matrescence.”

By confronting the inception of her identity and societal self-labeling, Similu was able to appreciate the layers that shaped her and discover the foundation for her practice. “There is this notion you must live before you can create, and you can only create from your own experience,” she notes. Raised in the Brixton neighborhood of London, her biracial heritage was often diluted by surrounding cultures; however, once she sparked a personal connection to her familial lineage, her work took a remarkable direction. “Because my grandmother was a midwife in Cameroon, ancestral lineage literally seemed like the best place to start, and then to continue on through the concepts of ancestral and genetic memories and psychological inheritance.”

Chic Unique (2022), named after a hair salon in her hometown, features synthetic hair that reminds artist Leena Similu of her childhood

Inspired by Martin Margiela’s deconstructed approach to design combined with raw materials, Similu’s glazed vessels celebrate traditional West African masks through a contemporary lens. “I knew I should not and could not make replicas or tributes of African masks, not that I discount the power of learning through copying,” she says. “I wanted to give the work the quality of an artifact without the emphasis on age.” Each piece embodies feminine form while subtly acknowledging stereotypes and the exploitation of artifacts. “In the future, I would like to arrive at the boundaries between art and activism rather than influence change in the art and design world,” she notes. “I’m still unpacking the relationship between my process and what there is to say and how to say it.”

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