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Musem plaque of Strange Fruit by Zoe Leonard on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It reads "Zoe Leonard Intended to decay wile on view, Strange Fruit is made up of empty fruit skins sutured together by artist Zoe Leonard (Amiercan, born 1961) and scattered across the gallery floor. The work was created in New York in the 1990s, during the early days of the ongoing global AIDS crisis, before any life-saving treatments were available. This was an era marked by tragic loss and the stigmatization of queer people and people of color, along with sex workers and drug users. In this climate of discrimination and neglect, people were dying daily, their bodies treated by the US government and healthcare industries as disposable. After the deaths of several close friends, including fellow artist David Wojnarowics, Leonard began to sew these fruit pieces. Out of that process, over a period of six years, Strange Fruit emerged. The work's title is taken from the anti-lynching song...(cont.)


Excerpts from my unpublished essay "Living With Strangers and Strange Fruit Too":


Strange Fruit is an art installation by Zoe Leonard, born 1961. It is one of her most famous artworks and the first thing you see when you type my name into Google. Leonard worked on the project throughout the 90s, so I have been seeing photos of Strange Fruit ever since I gained access to the internet. Only now, as a burgeoning photographer and artist myself, am I coming to appreciate it.

Leonard sewed together fruit as she dealt with grief from the death of her friends amidst the AIDS crisis. The deteriorating skins strewn across the exhibit floor evoke the bodies of the sick and dying, left neglected by the American government and healthcare systems. Rotting in their bodies....

...A photography organization on campus is looking for photos that fit the theme of “healing.” Another peach from the dining hall is showing a heart-shaped bruise. To mend it, I stage a Strange Fruit Too, tracing dotted surgical lines around the bruise and volunteering an orange for a skin graft. I capture a before photo of the bruised peach and surgery lines, then I use a pocket knife to extract the heart-shaped wound. I photograph the peach’s gaping open chest and removed section, glistening sweet yellow. Channeling Zoe Leonard (1961), I stitch the orange peel to the chest of the wounded peach. Finally, I capture Frankenstein's monster, the “healed” peach with its orange skin graft—my very own strange fruit....

...I drove up from my home in Maryland to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see Strange Fruit in person.

I stepped inside Zoe Leonard’s exhibit, in a room of its own, the size of a small garage—white walls, concrete floor. The air was a few degrees warmer. Surely there were more than a hundred pieces of fruit. Maybe more than two hundred. 

More visitors slid into the exhibit room, and more, and more, until it was almost crowded. People muttered my name, and I felt like I was harboring a secret. Nobody knew how much this meant to me. Nobody knew what I was seeing for the first time....

Photograph of strange fruit on a white background. Half a peeled orange in the background, a roll of gauze, and silver scissors partially obscured by a peach with a needle stuck in the top and dotted surgery lines over a brown bruise. To the right of the peach is another peach with a band-aid, and in front of both peaches is half of an orange peel.
Photograph of Zoe Leonard's Strange Fruit exhibit at the Philidelphia Museum of Art. Dozens of strange, sewn together, and rotted fruit dot the concrete floor. White walls in the background.
The peach with the surgery lines from the previous image now has an orange skin sewn onto the top, creating a "Strange Fruit" similar to the artifacts created by American artist Zoe Leonard, born 1961.
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