Born in New York City to Dominican parents, Leonardo Benzant’s work includes painting, performance, sculpture, sound, and installation as he investigates deeply personal experiences of identity, ancestry, family, community and spirituality. Information is drawn from the uniquely shared history of code switching, double-consciousness and multiple narratives that people of African descent have inherited and are compelled to adopt as a survival strategy for daily life. Like this common experience his work straddles two worlds, embodying the dynamics of being both sacred and secular. Observing Western art historical constructions, modalities of thought and contemporary discourse informs Benzant’s practice while centering his work in community practices and rituals, drawing personal inspiration from the spirit and the oral traditions of the African ancestors that came across the Atlantic Ocean during the middle passage slave trade.
Within African cosmology, ancestors live in both the past and the present, this belief is central to Benzant’s work as an artist. His POTUS M:5 sculptures grew as a visceral response to various kinds of power-objects that he encountered studying Bakongo in particular minkisi and makutos. In August of 2010 Benzant was initiated into the branch of Palo known as Briyumba. In 2014, he was initiated into the oldest house of Palo, belonging to the Mayombe branch: a ritual complex whose chief aim is to transform, heal, and harmonize individuals and families with nature, community, and the ancestors. As a result of his first initiation, Benzant began creating an ongoing body of paintings that I refer to as Signatures inspired by the ideographic writing system he encountered in the ritual-context of both Mayombe and Briyumba ceremonies in New York City.
Benzant attended Pratt Institute from 2007 – 2010. In addition to being in several important private collections, his work was recently acquired by The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture in Charlotte, North Carolina for their permanent collection. His work has been exhibited at Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art in Newark, NJ, the N’Namdi Center in Detroit, Michigan, and 101/EXHIBIT gallery in Los Angeles, California. He is currently an artist in residence at Galveston Artist Residency in Galveston, Texas.