I first heard about Zoe Leonard because of Fierce Pussy (I know! The name!). Fierce Pussy was one of several art-activist collectives (Gran Fury was another) working during the AIDS crisis in New York. Fierce Pussy produced iconic images like this and this. And in a related aesthetic, Leonard produced this frank, awesome 1992 op-ed.
This was the work of Leonard’s—the loud, enraged, overtly politicized graphic art— I was familiar with until recently. When I found out about Strange Fruit (For David). From 1993 through 1998, Leonard sewed the peels of fruits she ate, dried out, emptied, and “repaired.” In the piece Leonard used around 300 avocados, oranges, bananas, grapefruits, and lemons, whose skins the artist sewed up with thread, wires, zippers, and buttons.
Leonard’s piece, not coincidentally, shares a title with the Billie Holliday 1930s anti-lynching ballad. And the Davidin the title refers to the artist David Wojnarowicz, creator of the recently censored Fire In My Belly and friend of Leonard’s who died of AIDS-related complications in 1992. Strange Fruit is a work created out of mourning and it speaks about death and decay. The fruit skins as art material are bound by time and so is the work itself; from its creation, the work’s deterioration had already begun.