Kiki Smith is a well-known feminist artist, most famous for her Body Art pieces. Before taking this class, not only had I never heard of Kiki Smith, but also my skill of listing off all of the female artists that I knew of was pretty pathetic. When reading Phoebe Hoban’s article, The Feminist Evolution, I nearly lost track of all of the successful feminist artists that she listed along with each artist’s major successes. With the endless list, I decided to Google search a few of them, just to learn a little more about their history as female artists. Kiki Smith stood out to me the most, primarily because of her quote on gender specific pieces of art:
“I don’t mind working at projects that are gender specific. I think there is still enormous inequity, but I guess I am optimistic. I see tremendous change within my lifetime–I feel like I am evidence of that change. There are just endless quantities of good women artists. But it would have not happened without the struggles of previous generations.”
Kiki Smith’s approach to art not only has political significance, but she exposes biological systems of the female/male (portraying flesh, urination, semen, lactation, and several others), and uses those systems in order to represent a metaphor for specific social issues.
An example: Smith’s work titled “Tale” exhibits a woman on all 4’s, with an extremely long trail of feces exiting from her behind. A little repulsive at first, right? But after understanding Smith’s approach to exposing the human body in order to represent some sort of social issue can be seen here: I think this piece represents the struggle that a woman has dealing with something embarrassing that’s happened in her past. Perhaps it represents the humiliation a woman may face when having an aspect from their past exposed. When asked about this specific piece, Smith said: “The Tale piece was about kind of shame and humiliation about something – like that you’re dragging this sort of internal personal garbage around with you all the time. And also the shame and humiliation of not being able to hide it, that it’s so apparent in one’s own being.”
Kiki Smith makes the viewer of her artwork think twice about what they are seeing, and challenges critics to find a deeper meaning to her sometimes “repulsive” images. At first glance, seeing a woman with feces surrounding her my be disturbing to people, but it seems as though that’s what Smith is trying to accomplish. She’s making something that originally may be deemed disturbing, but adding a hidden social connotation to that piece of artwork.
In Why Have There Been No Great Female Artists?” Women, Art and Power 1988, Linda Nochlin reasons why women are always considered incapable of producing fine arts when compared to male standards. Kiki Smith has received a lot of negative feedback for her works as a feminist artist, many due to that fact that people could not believe that a female was producing such “vile” pieces of art. The height of Smith’s work was produced during the 80’s, so not only was it a difficult task for Smith’s work to gain positive recognition because she was female, but also because of some of her risky pieces.
A New York Times article on Kiki Smith, written by a friend, Michael Kimmelman, dives a bit deeper into Smith’s personal life and gives details on where some of the ideas from her different pieces might have stemmed from. As Smith emerged in the late 70’s, and reached many great successes in the 80’s, she lost many dear friends, as well as a younger sibling to AIDS. From that point, a lot of Smith’s art about the human body showed duress or even death. Her friend describes Smith as “fearless, totally fearless”.