Lionel Smit is the South African creative unifying humans through art
It’s irritating to see other countries progress as we, in America, deny our existence as one multicultural species moving together to reach the common goal of equality. As other nations adjust to the times, those who are citizens of this elitist, racist, and capitalistic country must find it quite embarrassing that America is backstepping.
There are lessons to be learned as we are midway through an age of neo-nationalism. We as humans and a global community should be afraid of leaders like the US’s former president (we are not mentioning his name) who look to backpedal and destroy all of the work we’ve put in to rid the world of chauvinistic ideals.
One way we can do this is through art. South African sculptor and painter, Lionel Smit, is doing exactly that through his beautiful works that express a need for the global community to embrace the notion of human unification.
His recent exhibition Divide, which recently came to a close on Oct. 28 at the Art|Life space in LA, is an investigation into the fragments of our identities and the complexities of race.
For the exhibition, Smit drew inspiration from the Cape Malay people of Cape Town as they represent a rich, complex, and fraught history. His muses’ histories run deep as the extraordinary ethnic group emigrated to Cape Town by force via slave ships from the Dutch East Indies and under the exploits of colonialism.
Since then, their origins have morphed due to globalization, their Asian bloodlines have intertwined with those of African and European descent, and their culture has evolved into a hybrid identity.
Impressed with Smit’s artistic efforts to paint and sculpt a physical message that displays human connectivity and the creation of a universal person that portrays
us all, KulturHub caught up with him over the phone while he was chilling in Strand, Cape Town.
During our conversation, the creative visionary expressed how his art represents us as a whole, the abstraction of colors he uses in his expressionistic portraits and sculptures, and the influences the South African apartheid has had on his life. His exhibition Divide couldn’t have come at a better time. In regards to searching for a universal message that connects us all, Smit said,
“There has always been this racial tension and I think what people don’t realize in South Africa is that there are a lot of racial tensions all over the world… I never wanted to get involved in political art nor do I see myself as a political artist but what I loved about the idea [painiting the people of Cape Malay] is the universality of it. This becomes universal to all of us, this is something we all can connect to, and forget about race. My main point of interest is that I want to express the human and I don’t want to express something that’s either white or black. My connection is based on how we all can connect on an emotional level…”
The earthy hues Smit uses in his artworks represent something special. We all came from the earth and back to it, we will go. On canvas, you can tell that he is on a journey to connect the elements of emotion and expression.
For his sculptures, it’s easy to see that Smit flawlessly forms a bridge between our individual identities and the intensity of the human spirit. On projecting artful emotional messages through his pieces, Smit expressed,
“It’s an emotional exploration that I go through and the abstraction, to me, becomes very expressive. You have these two elements bouncing off each other and feeding each other. Let’s say the background is bright red or orange in one of the pieces, it immediately gives you a different sense. It’s quite amazing what it does to so many different people because each person has some connection through the image but each person feels something different…”
The subjects we see used in Smit’s paintings prove that we are all a part of one huge melting pot. In a way, South Africa and America are quite similar in that aspect, especially during these times.
Constantly, certain groups of people attempt to make strides towards a worse state of human co-existence. Why are we in denial of our cross-cultural roots? It would be easier to move together as one species instead of separate groups chasing the same carrot.
Over the tele, Smit explained that we are on a metaphorical pendulum that swings between racial tensions. It’s as if the oppressors, now, feel oppressed and those who were oppressed are looked at as the oppressors. For sure, we are in a state of reverse racism and circular logic.
The only way we can progress is if we are able to “live together as a new community,” said Smit. During our conversation, Smit also referenced the movie Skin. The example proved that we shouldn’t forget our unique cultures but also ignore the racial and elitist pacifier that is dangled over society.
Growing up during the era of Apartheid, Smit was exposed to a multiverse of cultures. He remembers the day that Nelson Mandela was inaugurated and how society made an attempt to brainwash his brother and father with racist ideas. Still, he knew something incredible was happening…,
“I think all of those things subliminally played a role in my life, but I didn’t decide ‘I want to be this activist.’ It’s something that rubbed off on me and I know we are all seeking the same thing. We want to be able to live and be loved,” said Smit.
The one thing that Smit thinks is stopping us from reaching equality is PRIDE. We appear to be comfortable in our skin but our confidence can be a liar. All of the media that points to elitism definitely doesn’t help either.
It’s time that we as a human race remove ourselves from the prideful notions that exist within society. Society truly needs to humble itself. Smit spoke on a silkscreen paperwork print of a naked woman who appeared to be comfortable in her own skin but looked away in despair.
I found this to be an exact representation of the societal issues that exist within the world.
Smit’s persona and art definitely left its mark but before we ended our conversation he wanted people to know:
“It’s important for people to find a common ground. I think we all have a lot of the same struggles, even racially in different countries. I think sometimes we feel isolated in South Africa that we are the only country going through these racial issues, but its all over… “
If you didn’t have the opportunity to check out Lionel’s Divide exhibition at the Art|Life space be sure to check out his Morphous Sculpture in Union Square.