Photo Credit: Corbett vs. Dempsey
How Artist Cauleen Smith's Newest LA Exhibit Celebrates Black Women
From April 1st to October 31st, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) will be hosting an exhibit for prominent Black experimental artist, Cauleen Smith. Curated by Rita Gonzalez, the acclaimed California artist has used a multitude of artistic mediums to visualize all facets of Black expression, specifically within the United States. Her first film, Drylongso was well-received by major film festivals including the Sundance Film Festival, and this film debut certainly left a great imprint for Smith’s future work.
“Give It or Leave It” is the title of the installation that Cauleen Smith will be holding at LACMA from Spring to Fall 2021. It is a play off of the colloquial phrase, “Take It or Leave It.” Smith’s entire set-up invokes a widespread of different emotions from several different artists which Smith installed their different mediums of art in her exhibition space.
Smith is more concerned with the artistic idea of re-arranging different artifacts from the past to create a new meaning, since her art is an immersive experience itself.
Located at the entry base level of the popular Los Angeles-based modern art museum, Cauleen Smith’s sensory gallery transports the viewer into a Black cultural space of historical significance. The exhibit includes 5 videos either reflected through projection or replayed on wall-mounted monitors.
The videos show Black women navigating through their daily lives, and the audio layered over the screenings concerned the rawness and vulnerability that most marginalized Black women feel living in the United States. The other 9 installations involve African art statues, potted plants, and even a large crow figure that are carefully decorated around the table of projectors.
Plastered on the corner of the middle wall within the three connecting rooms is the astounding statement, “Afflict the comfortable, Comfort the afflicted.” This is tied to Smith’s inner emotions and personal experience of being a Black woman growing up in California.
Black women have been pushed aside throughout history due to the patriarchal European standards that stem from white supremacy in the United States. This country’s foundation based on discrimination and prejudice has left Black women most vulnerable compared to other demographics, and the quotation above Smith’s installation highlights the same sentiments.
Throughout the audio taping, the viewer can hear the echoes of a Black woman uplifting her community and exemplifying the harsh American truths behind the Black woman experience.
Smith has had her thought-provoking exhibitions displayed across the United States, including the New Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. She is a pillar in defining and visualizing the contemporary Black woman through her various mediums of art, and collaborates with other Black artists to produce an artistic space of cultural recognition and intimate captures of Black life.
The violet and blue hued dim lights that brighten up the LACMA space gives Smith’s exhibition a vibrant feeling of invitation. Once you enter, you quickly realize it is an installation full of Black relics and mementos that showcase the normalcy of Black family life and community. The shimmering wallpaper underneath the nailed photo captured by photojournalist Bill Ray at Watts Towers provides a simpler glimpse into Black lives in the 1960s.
Also, Smith’s gallery space highlights work from queer spiritualist, Rebecca Cox Jackson and dessert artist, Noah Purifoy.