Smith explores the idea that African-Americans live with two coexisting identities: One is in the open, a persona that is plainly seen by the world; the other is unconsciously hidden just below the surface. It is a survival technique for African-Americans navigating the larger culture around them. (The show’s title comes from the poem of the same name by Audre Lorde.)
“I myself am a Gemini,” Smith told The ARTery, WBUR’s art and culture team. “I think a lot about two identities and what that means in terms of how you present yourself in different scenarios to different people. And so, I guess my own personal experience was a huge inspiration subconsciously, without me even realizing it, for this new body of work.”
Smith’s paintings and drawings feature dual African-American female forms in shades of black, blue, and purple in graphic, pop-art styles. Most of the images mirror each other, suggesting multiple states of being.
Smith told WBUR that Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Helen Oyeyemi’s Icarus Girl, and Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, all books that portray young black girls confronting issues of race, culture, and identity, inspired her.
In her previous work, Smith focused on younger subjects, which she said was a result of teaching and her love of children. “I’ve noticed how unique personalities are at such a young age, and how identities are present at a very young age,” she told WBUR. “Young people know themselves and have a sense of themselves from as early as 4 years old. So that’s always been fascinating to me.”
In A Litany for Survival, her characters are no longer girls. “I see an age shift in these characters…so as my work is evolving, I feel like the figures are also evolving and growing up and getting older,” said Smith. “I think identity as an undercurrent is always present in the work, just because of my own interests.”
Photo: Alexandria Smith's “portrait of a Love Supreme”, 2018. Acrylic, graphite, oil and enamel on canvas. 21 x 32 in.
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