At SCAD, Emily Mae Smith’s Wildly Inventive Visions

Kicking off the SCAD Museum of Art’s long-awaited reopening, “Feast and Famine” illustrates how the American painter cheekily revises art historical tropes to put marginalized voices on full display.

Feast and Famine (2017) by Emily Mae Smith

This month, the Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art has reopened following months of closure, ushering in an exciting lineup of fall programming. New exhibitions showcasing artists Guo Fengyi, Edgar Sanchez Cumbas, KAYA, and Emily Mae Smith are now on view, plus a group show curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath. Emily Mae Smith’s “Feast and Famine” represents an exciting selection of the American artist’s work from the past five years, putting her mastery of painting and image making—and her signature mythological influences—on full display. References to human bodies and art history abound, though are often flipped: physical forms are either curved and sensual or pristine and sharp, while historical references call out the canonization of white male voices. 

“Smith’s work is powerful because she has developed such a striking, unique visual language that many viewers can connect to, whether through humor, aesthetics or her idiosyncratic symbolism,” says Ben Tollefson, associate curator at the SCAD Museum of Art, who collaborated with her on the exhibition. “She uses carefully crafted painted images as a tool to speak to contemporary subjects like the revision of art history to include marginalized voices.” In the show’s titular work—an oil-on-linen piece from 2017—two green-eyed jungle cats sit against a backdrop of women’s bodies, whose curves mimic the sandy hills of a desert landscape; only upon closer inspection do the corporal forms reveal themselves. Graphic text, like a novel’s title, lines the sky, the words “feast” and “famine” blurring into one another in a psychedelic almost-mirror image.

For those who can’t make the trip to Savannah, the museum is hosting virtual studio visits and talks with the artists on view, including Smith, Kenturah Davis, and KAYA. And SCAD has no shortage of virtual events planned, including alumni panels and recurring “circles” hosted by the museum’s curators covering painting, film, and contemporary art.

Big Sea of Tears (2019) and The Appraisal (2020) by Emily Mae Smith

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