Sable Elyse Smith

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Artist Statement

Much of my practice is derived from the intersection of cinema, language, particularly the written text, and image making: construction, deconstruction, and abstraction.

I am interested in the potential of language as object– folding itself around itself. It’s desire  for accuracy
and its potential undoing. At the core of my practice is a desire to understand the many ways that trauma and violence is graphed and marked across bodies. But also the language we use and construct to articulate that. And the things that are picture just beyond the frame

To do this we must look at the trickery of memory. The poetry embedded in the fictions we create for ourselves, the fictions of our desires. The fictions of the systems and structures governing our lives.  How do we know what we’re looking at?

I work from the archive of my own body creating new syntax for knowing and not knowing, there by marking the difference between witnessing and watching. These are two very distinct subject positions.Think of the one who bears witness and the one who watches to consume.

“Between looking and being looked at, spectacle and spectatorship, enjoyment and being enjoyed, lies
and moves the economy of what Saidiyah Hartman calls hypervisibility”

My current body of work is focused on mass incarceration. Using aerial views of prison complexes as a point of reference as well as the architectural materials and markings of their interiors, I extract colors(blues in particular), demarcation lines, and other fragments that touch on the experience of visiting my father in various prisons over the past 20 years. The subsequent works examine and dismantle regulatory codes that are both embedded in the body yet deeply impersonal.

What became hyper interesting to me over time as my body moved in and out of these very charged spaces. That I developed a type of muscle memory so that every time I crossed the threshold of the architecture of the prison I started performing small gestures subconsciously tiny repetitions that I did not consciously tell my body to start doing. Simple things like adjusting my posture, tucking in and straighten my clothing, tempering the tone and volume of my speech. And so when I became aware of this I started to think about the other things that I may have internalized throughout my experience moving in and out of these spaces and other structures that might be oppressive in ways.

I started to wonder and sort of obsess about the accumulation of these small and sometimes insignificant internalizations over time and what that does the body and what that does to you.

I looking at a quotidian violence, the invisible interactions and transgressions of the day to day and I’m
more concerned in the work at least with their profound impact more so than the catastrophic. In the terror that can hardly be discerned

This is the residue of the things I’m wrestling with in the work.

Or as Fred Moten has articulated

“At issue here is the precariousness of empathy and the uncertain line between witness and spectator.
Only more obscene than the brutality unleashed at the whipping post is the demand that this suffering be materialized and evidenced by the display of the tortured body or endless recitations of the ghastly and terrible. In light of this, how does one give expression to these outrages without exacerbating the indifference to suffering that is the consequence of the benumbing spectacle or contend with the narcissistic identification that obliterates the other or the prurience that too often is the response to such displays?”

My formal attention is really rooted in the poetic. In fragmentation, a repetition that is about dissolution,collage, the landscape of memory,  and in the tension between narrative and non narrative. The video work of course has a relationship to experimental cinema but also an engagement with a cinematic syntax.

I’m invested in boundary dissolution and a seamless shift from position to position context to context
frame to frame and all the messy complicated parts.

This work is about the structure and the frame and particularly taking up this question of looking and producing things that are then looked at. 


Born 1986 in Los Angeles, California
Currently living and working in New York, NY


Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon, New Museum, New York, NY. Curated by Johanna Burton.
Other Romances, Rachel Uffner Gallery, New York, NY. Curated by Em Rooney.
“Elaine, let’s get the hell out of here,” Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, New York, NY. Curated by
Ashton Cooper.
Memory is a Tough Place, Kellen Galleries at The New School, New York, NY. Curated by Macushla Robinson.
UPTOWN: nasty women/bad hombres, EL Museo Del Barrio, New York, NY. Curated by Rocio Aranda-Alvarado.
Watchlist, SIGNAL, Brooklyn, NY. Curated by Goedele Bartholomeeusen & Kat Herriman.
Your Body is a Battleground: VOLTA 2017, VOLTA NY, New York, NY. Curated by Wendy Vogel
The Exposed Suture, Rond-Point Projects, Marseille, France. Curated by Natasha Marie Llorens
Who Gets To Look, UC Irvine Galleries, Irvine, CA. Curated by Virginia Arche
Without a Body, Andrea Rosen Gallery 2, New York, NY. Curated by SIGNAL
Emerging Arts Fellowship Exhibition 2016Socrates Sculpture Park, Queens NY
With Liberty and (in)Justice For All?, Gateway Project Spaces, Newark, NJ
Partner in Crime, Paul Robeson Galleries at Rutgers University, Newark, NJ
Focus on the Funk: Journeys*, Serpentine Gallery & Birbeck College, London England
Over the Wall, Southern Exposure, San Francisco, CA
Comrade What is Your Visual Bond?* Sunday Sessions: Screening, MoMA PS1, New York, NY
History As I Know It, On the Ground Floor GalleryLos Angeles, CA
La Lucha II Dom & Haiti Visions of Tomorrow, Andrew Freedman Home, Bronx, NY
Blue is Ubiquitous and Forbidden,  SOHO20 Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
Dis Place, The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, Brooklyn, NY
Inherited, BRIC, Brooklyn, NY. Curated by Hallie Ringle.
Consequential Translations, Centro Cultural de Espana, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
RESPOND, Smack Mellon, Brooklyn, NY
Gaze Series #5: Transgressions*Artist Television AccessSan Francisco, CA

Present Futures*, The Mandrake, Los Angeles, CA


Artist Love Poets, The Poetry Project, New York, NY.
The Listening PartyMoMA Pop Rally, New York, NY

Sable Elyse Smith & Camel Collective, The Poetry Project, New York, NYReading & Launch Selfish Magazine: Issue 3, Over the Eight, Brooklyn, NY,
Mirror/Echo/Tilt, Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture: New York, New York, NY
Reading: Blue is Ubiquitous and Forbidden, SOHO20 Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
Heart, Voice, Song: Three Meeting Performances, Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY
Fallow Time: Movement Research Festival: Through Body, Through Earth, Through Speech,
Queens Museum, New York, NY
Dissident Futures Art and Ideals Festival,Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA
Through Body, Through Earth, Through SpeechEyebeam, New York, NY
Performative Reading Event for Daily Violence with Huong Ngo,The Window at 125, New York, NY
The Future is Fantastic (If You Want It)New Museum, New York, NY
The Kitchen L.A.B Conference: Position: 
Panel w/ Claudia Rankine, Casey Llewellyn, Will Rawls
Moderated by Katy Dammers. April 15, 2017. The Kitchen, New York, NY
Container: Panel w/ Akil Kumarasamy, Philip Matthews, Jagdeep Raina, Aaron Richmond, Victoria Udondian. Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI 
Performing History: Talk + Panel w/ Steffani Jemison, Samson Kambalu, Illana Harris-Babou Moderatedby Massa Lemu. March 23-24, 2017. Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
 Explicit?: Panel w/ Lorraine O’Grady & Sondra Perry, in conjunction with Ellen Cantor
Exhibitions. Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, New York, NY
Afrofuturism Conference 2016: #BLACKISVIRAL: Panel: Hyper Visibility of the Black Image w/ CaitlinCherry & Devin Kenny, The New School, New York, NY
In Conversation w/Shaun Leonardo, March 23, 2016, BRIC, New York, NY
Comrade What is Your Visual Bond? Sunday Sessions: Panel, MoMA PS1, New York, NY
“New Museum R&D Seminar: Persona,” Selected Participant, New Museum, New York, NY
Dis Place: Artist Talk,” The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, Brooklyn, NY
“I Can’t Breath: Conversation w/ Shaun Leonardo Moderated by Kimberly Drew,” August 14, 2015.
BRIC, Brooklyn, NY
“In Conversation: Ayana Jackson and Monique Long,”
 Michael Steinberg Fine Art, New York, NY
“Subtleties of Resistance” Free University at Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar
Baby” In dialogue with Nicole Fleetwood, New York, NY
Panel Participant: “It Is All Here.” Memories Can’t Wait. December 14, 2012. The International Center for

Photography, New York, NY.

“Artist Profile: Devin Kenny,”
“Devein Kenny: Love, The Sinner,” Studio Museum Blog. The Studio Museum in Harlem
“Ecstatic Resilience,” Essay, Recess Art (online).“Blue is Ubiquitous and Forbidden,” Story, Selfish Magazine.
“Studio Visit: Troy Michie,” Article, Studio Magazine. The Studio Museum in Harlem.

“Sadie Barnette,” Article, No Tofu Magazine. No Tofu Media.
“Studio Visit: niv Acosta,” Article, Studio Magazine. The Studio Museum in Harlem
“Performing Prison: The Art of Incarceration,” Article, Studio Magazine. Studio Museum in Harlem
“Pattie Jordan,” Interview, No Tofu Magazine. No Tofu Media.“Orange is Two Shades of Gray,” Essay, No Tofu Magazine. No Tofu Media.

2017 Recess Art: ASSEMBLY Residency
The Fountainhead Residency
NYSCA Individual Artist Program in Film and Media
Fine Arts Work Center Fellow
Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant
Queens Museum Jerome Foundation Fellowship for Emerging Artist
Recess Art: Critical Writing Fellow
Emerging Artist Fellowship Socrates Sculpture Park
Creative Capital Fellow
Art Matters
Franklin Furnace Fund for Performance Art
Skowhegan School of Painting & SculptureBIBLIOGRAPHY2017 Vogel, Wendy. “Elaine, Let’s Get the Hell Out of Here.” ARTFORUM Critics’ Pick. July 2017
Kaack, Nicole. Sable Elyse Smith. ARTFORUM Critics’ Pick. July 2017
Herriman, Kat. Invisible Fences. CULTURED Magazine. Summer 2017
Schwendener, Martha. 10 Galleries to Visit Now in Brooklyn. The New York Times. April27.
Steinhauer, Jillian. A Curated Section Brings Body Politics to Volta NY. Hyperallergic. March 3.
Walsh, Brienne. A Curator Heeds The Post-Election Call to Battle at The Volta Art Fair. Forbes.March 1.
Dakinah, Keven. 7 Unmissable Shows in New York this Week. Amuse–VICE. March 1.
Firestone, Jesse Bandler. Bodies for a Future yet to Come. D/Railed. January 26.
Meier, Allison. Christopher Walken Heads, Winged Feet, and Other Sculptures Alight Along theEast River. Hyperallergic. January 24.
Kaack, Nicole. Miguel Angel Cardenas and Without a Body at Andrea Rosen. SFAQ. January 20.
Staff Writer. FLUCT, Sable Elyse Smith And Ivana Basic “Without A Body” Curated By SIGNAL At AndreaRosen 2, New York. Purple Fashion Magazine. January 13.
McGarrigle, Lia. 4 Black Artists You Need To Know: As chosen by contemporary art girl collective
Black Art Incubator. Amuse- August 12.
Sarget, Antwaun. Enter the Realm of a Cosmic Black Utopia. The Creators Project: VICE. July 14.
Heinlein, Sabine. Artists Grapple With America’s Prison System. The New York Times. March 11.
Tobak,Vikki. Visualizing The Overlooked Legacy of Mass Incarceration. January 18.
Greenerger, Alex. Creative Capital Announces 2016 Awardees in Emerging Fields, Literature, andPerforming Arts. ARTNEWS. January 12.
Reis. Victoria. Artists of the African Diaspora Cast off the Legacy of Displacement. Hyperallergic.
December 10.
Palmer, Lauren. 6 Must-See Art Events in New York This Week. Art in America. October 26.King, Jamilah. Kara Walker’s Sugar Sphinx Evokes Call From Black Women: We Are Here. Color
lines. June 23.
We Are Here: Black Women Claim their Space at Kara Walker’s Controversial Sugar Sphinx
Show. July 2.