Shinique Smith

Rozae Nichols

In the third edition of our Makers Series, we are honored to introduce our dear friend, Shinique Smith. Shinique is an internationally celebrated painter and sculptor known for her monumental abstraction of calligraphy textiles, collage and sculptures. Born in Baltimore, MD and residing in Los Angeles, her works have been exhibited by and are permanent collections of institutions such as Baltimore Museum of Art, MOMA PS1, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, The Denver Art Museum, The Studio Museum Of Harlem, The National Portrait Gallery, LACMA, The Kemper Museum and The Whitney Museum, among others. When gifted by the time I've shared with Shinique, I have always experienced spiritual connections to places of the divine revealed through her work, her generosity and creative wisdom.

Where are you from and where are you now?

Your work & use of symbols feels to me like an otherworldly place and time.

I was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. Now, I am living in Los Angeles and have been for four years. Growing up, my mother made everyday places and parks seem as magical as the ancient and sacred sites we have visited together around the world. This way of seeing and the privilege of experiencing these spaces encouraged me to make connections across time and space which influences my sculptures and paintings, and the range of materials I choose to work with.

I'm intrigued by the multidiscipline approach to your work, your lyrical calligraphic paintings, dense fabric sculpture and your meditative performance art. Please share with us a bit about your creative process.

Through gestures of bundling and tying, I create microcosms that include a myriad cultures and economic backgrounds. I am driven to ‘hold together’ and harmonize elements from the world around me and cull the potential magic that resides within fabric and objects. I have built my own complex vocabulary that weaves together calligraphy, private narratives, memories, patterns, and symbolism to reveal connections that resonate on a social and spiritual scale – to reveal how we are connected as a people.

Your use of denim as a primary material is fascinating. Can you talk about the complex issues & symbols surrounding this historical material and its indigo color?

I’ve been using denim as a surface and material in my work since 2002. At first, I channeled doodling on jeans or a denim binder, like when I was a teenager, as a form of meditation, making larger wall works with bleach, ballpoint pen and metal studs. Over the years, I have delved deeper into the history of denim and cotton and the history indigo and how this iconic piece of fashion is inextricably tied to the history of slavery and my African ancestry. I’ve created a performance that combines many aspects of my practice – combining brushwork, breath, ritual, bundling, cloth, cultural and historical inspirations. The presence of the body, my body and ideas of transformation reside in every gesture I make within this piece and much of my work.

We both share an affinity for the great whale. How does the natural world & animals influence your creative process?

Yes, I love whales and flora and fauna, and butterflies and weather patterns -All of what we call nature, but I have always felt that I am, and we are also a part of nature, as mammals and beings on this planet. I look for the poetry within human nature what we create alongside other animals for better or worse.

I feel a spiritual levity and openness in your calligraphic paintings & gravity defying suspended and ground-based sculpture. Together, they seem to co-exist as a rapturous entity. I could be so far off here...But is this perhaps a process of expressing balance between the written word, the breath, and the weight of the physical -material world?

Yes it is. And expressing and measuring my place within it.

What is the most memorable message of wisdom or advice you have received?

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” -Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“There’s no one youer than you.” – My mom via Dr. Seuss

Photography, Cristina Trayfors

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