STARGAZERS”, Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art – KC STUDIO

Shinique Smith: STARGAZERS installation view, including (left to right): ‘Mutual Butterflies’ and ‘Grace Stands Beside’, April 21 – July 31, 2022, Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, Kansas. Photo: EG Schemf


In a May interview with Artnet.com, multidisciplinary artist Shinique Smith said, “My most indispensable tools are my hands. I touch everything: building, drawing, packaging, grouping, painting – all my work is imbued with my sense of touch.

This all-encompassing use of tactility, as well as the spiritual nature of self-reflection, oozes from every pore of the visually rich and intellectually stimulating exhibition “Shinique Smith: STARGAZERS” at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art.

Incorporating paint, mixed media, dyed fabrics, fabric sculptures, object collections and a video installation, “STARGAZERS” is comprised of new works that Smith has produced on a roller coaster of upheaval and loneliness. last two years.

“Inflamed by Golden Hues of Love” is a self-supporting assemblage of fabrics, garments, ribbons, cords, fibers and woods, which have been painted and dyed. Rich in black and gold textures ranging from abstract to pattern, it resonates with an optimistic energy, electrifying the exhibition space.

Shinique Smith: STARGAZERS Installation view including (front left): ‘Inflamed by the Golden Hues of Love’, April 21 – July 31, 2022, Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, Kansas. Photo: EG Schemf

Born in Baltimore, the Brooklyn-based artist, whose practice is influenced by graffiti, Japanese calligraphy and abstraction, says “STARGAZERS” is “inspired by ancestors who gazed at the stars as explorers and slaves in search of freedom, like other artists before me.”

This idea of ​​”gazing at the stars as explorers and as slaves seeking freedom” is very evident in the large-scale calligraphic paintings, some traveling in mixed media, that Smith created blindfolded during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. Black paint on softer pastel colors collide to find a unifying purpose. These works are both intersectional and introspective, like the Black Lives Matter protests themselves. There is an aesthetic of conflict in these works, as strokes and colors are sometimes seemingly in competition. There is also an aesthetic of cooperation as these same strokes and colors create a unified whole.

While many artists work on music, Smith says, “I mostly keep it quiet in the studio when I prefer to listen to my own thoughts and internal music.” The poignancy of silence and self-reflection is evident in a collection of assemblages including drawings, sketches, printed images, books, figurines and a smaller fabric sculpture. Referring to race, time, space, science and mortality, these objects place the viewer on a raft riding the river of human thought, especially black human thought in these tumultuous and trying times. .

Shinique Smith: STARGAZERS installation view including: ‘Beyond the Grip of Angels’, April 21 – July 31, 2022, Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, Kansas. Photo: EG Schemf

Smith’s belief that “. . . fabric is one of mankind’s greatest and most important inventions” is on full display in other colorful and vibrant fabric sculptures that are strategically placed throughout the exhibition. Created with sight and touch, as opposed to large-scale works on canvas created blindfolded, these repurposings and recontextualizations of used, discarded and dyed fabrics evoke issues of duality, excess, greed and waste. These works also address issues of socio-economic inequality and physical labor, given the physical effort that must be made to create each.

While most take the form of pillars or deities, one has a shape that reminded me of a seahorse from the back ads of 1970s comic books. Using discarded handbags, as well as clothes, he invokes America’s obsession with status, fashion and style in the face of growing economic inequality and poverty.

“Breathing Room: Moon Marked Journey,” a meditative film directed and produced by Smith is perhaps the very strong cement that holds this already tightly knit exhibit together. Evolving from an Open Spaces Kansas City performance in 2018, “Breathing Room: Moon Marked Journey” explores the spiritual and aesthetic underpinnings of Smith’s practice. The film uses body wrapping, yoga-based breathing, and colorful imagery to explore the influence of color and self-reflection on Smith’s practice. In my opinion, it has the most impact when seen before, and then after, the rest of the works.

Shinique Smith: STARGAZERS installation view, including: ‘Breathing Room: Moon’Marked Journey’, April 21 – July 31, 2022, Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, Kansas. Photo: EG Schemf

A factor in the timeliness and significance of this exhibition is the purpose and intention with which JoAnne Northrup, Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Nerman Museum, has approached it. “When I began my role last August,” she said, “I knew the first major exhibition I had planned would serve as a public statement of my curatorial priorities as I led the Nerman Museum through his next chapter.”

“I am so thrilled to present Shinique Smith: STARGAZERS as my first major exhibition of my tenure at Nerman,” she added. “Smith is a brilliant performer and thoroughly deserves this opportunity. She has created a compelling experience for visitors and the JCCC community with STARGAZERS.

“Shinique Smith: STARGAZERS” is more than an exhibit; it is a reflective meditation on the nature of our humanity, both collectively and individually. In these trying times, this is a meditation we can all benefit from.

Shinique Smith: STARGAZERS” continues at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College, 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park, through July 31. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, 913.469.3000 or www.nermanmuseum.org.

Christopher S. Washington