Noreen Smith (Maryland, USA), analog collage, Angry or Assertive? May the Bridges I Burn Light the Way, 2020, layers vibrantly hued comic book extracts. Her collage practice involves sourcing the materials for her artworks from old comic books. Her clever and inventive remixing of this material into representational artworks featuring Black subjects is abundant and beautiful. Hero imagery is abundant. I was immediately drawn to the atypical shape, and it reminded me of a brain, as well as the abundance of visual information and signals that Smith loads all of her pieces. At the bottom of the piece, a Black fist extends up powerfully. Smith’s analog collages are rendered full of motion by the pace and skill of her application. The middle of Angry or Assertive? May the Bridges I Burn Light the Way features a white woman’s face, partially obscured but still fully present. Her expression is powerful, angry, and mighty. After viewing the piece, I recognized the brilliance of the title. As a Black woman, I have often weighed the junction between being what is perceived as too angry and rightfully angry. This piece encapsulates the experience of many Black and Brown women, how we are called too much when we respond with righteous indignation, while white women are called assertive. Smith’s piece illustrates the notion of art as a vehicle for self-expression. For Black artists, art is not a luxury. It is a tool, and it is liberatory practice. It is a freedom song. For many, art is THE way that we can express ourselves.
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND, DECEMBER 2022
Hi Noreen , we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I am a self taught multidisciplinary artist born and raised in Baltimore, MD. My love for art and making began in my adolescence and grew from observing women in my family create out of necessity or simply for the sake of making something beautiful but, rarely for recognition or monetization. The simple joy, pride and pure energy in their practices encompassed every work of their hands. Those authentic experiences taught me that art is a birth right belonging to everyone, a universal form of communication and an intimate exchange that on the deepest level can even evoke a visceral response. Knowing that I could cultivate an artistic voice that could be seen, felt and herd was the catalyst for my desire to be an Artist.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
It was initially difficult for me to outwardly identify myself as an artist and to understand that my creations were/are worthy of showcase and celebration. I further felt challenged by the snobbery and elitism that is often a part of the social circles within the art world. But, it fueled a determination and rebellion within me to feel comfortable in my skin and to claim any space that I am brave enough to stand in. Once I submitted to the truth of my own power, i decided to stop silencing my artistic voice and work to amplify the stories I wanted to share with others with pride and confidence.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
What do I do/specialize in? I am a multidisciplinary artist but, I especially enjoy working with paper.
What am i most proud of?
Most recently I created my first body of work, a collage series entitled, “Heroes & Villains”.
What sets me apart from others?
This series was created exclusively of materials sourced from comics and graphic novels. The utilization of these particular books is meant to point to the history of the under-representation of brown/black female characters within those story lines, similar to the real life history of gender and racial inequality of the feminist art movement of the 1970’s. “Heroes and Villains” also explores my journey through life as a black woman, and the social/racial inequities between black/brown women and their white female counterparts when living out their feminine freedoms and truths, and lends itself to the innate power found in womanhood, and the divine feminine; inclusive of those seldom celebrated complexities and nuances of female existence over time and various life occurrences.
What does success mean to you?
My definition of success is very simply living a life that makes you feel happy and whole.
Heroes & Villains explores the intersectionality of gender and racial inequality of the feminist art movement of 1960-1970. It is rooted in Noreen's “WHY”, regarding her journey through life as a black woman and the social/racial inequities of black/brown women comparative to that of their white female counterparts when living out feminine freedoms and human rights in a white male dominated society. The series lends itself to the innate power found in womanhood, and the divine feminine; inclusive of those seldom celebrated complexities and nuances of female existence over time and various life occurrences. All collage materials were sourced from comic books and graphic novels, calling attention to the serialized and ephemeral nature of comics, reflecting the real-world racism, sexism, and classism, that structure American society.