Kiki Smith came of age as an artist during the 1980's. In reaction to minimalism, many artists of this time were using representations of the human body as a tool to assert the political aspects of gender and identity issues. Smith's unique and visually complex work deals with the vulnerability and sheer physicality of the human body. Through representations of the body's internal functions, fluids and secretions, Smith demands a frank acceptance of corporeal reality. The viewer is unable to distance themselves from the disturbing reality of their own physicality. Many of Smith's pieces use the female body as subject matter. Working from a pre-established feminist framework, Smith explores the diverse possibilities inherent in the body as both subject and object, both self and other.
Smith's unique use of materials is one of the defining strengths of her work. "I like making things delicate" she says, "I guess you could call them 'girl materials'; but their just things associated with girls; soft materials like paper mache…I could just as easily use some other material, but I like that quality of fragility. I'm making work that's about the body, playing with the indestructibility of life, where life is a ferocious force that propels us; at the same time, it's also about how you can just pierce it and it dies. I'm always playing between these two extremes about life." Smith uses ephemeral materials such as cloth, paper, plaster and wax, reflecting the paradox of our physical existence. This transient quality of Smith's work broadens it's accessibility. It is less autobiographical and more universally spiritual.
Kiki Smith simultaneously investigates the inner cosmos, the internal workings of the body, and the greater cosmos, through the exploration of the human experience in relationship to the world around it. By addressing the physiological, social, legal, and spiritual aspects of the human body, Smith forces the viewer to examine the inner workings of their own lives.
BACK TO Women's Issue Home Page
Kiki Smith installation at
Kiki Smith at Pace Wildentstein Gallery N.Y.
Kiki Smith at UC Santa Barbara
Kiki Smith at Montreal Museum of Fine Arts