An interdisciplinary artist, Leslie Berns works with everyday, utilitarian materials to create mixed-media pieces that explore aspects of social, racial and personal history. In Shimworks and Bookmarks for a Mixed Race Narrative: Who Could and Couldn’t Marry Whom, she uses wood leveling sticks (shims) coated in oil and chalk pastel to graphically interrogate a historic document from the pre-civil rights era titled "Anti-Miscegenation Laws of the Several States: 1932." She incorporates visual memoir and textual excerpts into book arts-inspired works that enable a narrative, object-based contemplation of key persons, experiences and influences that have shaped her life and art. Her artworks typically develop from works on/of paper to sculptural objects to spatio-temporal ‘events' documented as moving images and digital prints.
Berns was awarded a James Weldon Johnson Foundation Fellowship in the Arts (2023) in partnership with Bard College-Simon's Rock (Great Barrington, Massachusetts). And in 2020 she participated in The Earth Of, ‘an experiment with language and form for writers and artists' with Arts, Letters and Numbers (Averill Park, New York). As part of the Washington Project for the Arts Experimental Media Series, Grounding, her video of a choreographed, performative drawing was screened at the Hirshhorn Museum and the Phillips Collection (Washington, D.C.). In Germany she presented theater- and dance-based performances in the Heidelberg Schloss Garten (Threshold) and at Unterwegs Theater (Life is Folding and Unfolding).
Formerly a Senior Lecturer of Fine Art at the University of Maryland, College Park, Berns is currently based in Hudson, New York and University Park, Maryland. Born in Buffalo, New York to parents of German and Jamaican ancestry, she holds an MFA from Yale University and a BFA from Pratt Institute, both in painting.