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Lionel Smit is the Artist Blurring the Line Between New and Old South Africa

South African multi-disciplinary artist, Lionel Smit, is one of the country’s most celebrated artists, using sculpture, painting, and printmaking to tell South Africa’s complex story. Born in Pretoria in 1982, Smit is the son of renowned sculptor, Anton Smit, whose expressive, monumental sculptures have influenced his son’s work. The younger Smit is best known for his contemporary portraiture executed through colossal canvases and sculptures that engage with the ideas of identity and community.

Smit sees sculpture and painting as symbiotic. Whether working in bronze or paint, he starts with abstract lines and swatches of color to create a base. He then overlays the image of a face or bust. Most of the faces are posed by models from the Cape Malay community, an ethnic group in Cape Town descended from slaves from the Dutch East Indies, European settlers and African Indigenes, over successive generations. According to his website, “the Cape Malay woman epitomizes hybrid identity within a South African context, and reflects the disintegrating construction of identity within our increasingly globalized world.” In his work, forgotten stories, languages and invisible barriers are forced to evolve.

To celebrate Lionel Smit’s new exhibition, The Folklore curated a collection of our favorite exhibits to date. 

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Smit’s works have been on display in galleries and public spaces around the globe. Two of his most recognizable pieces include the double-headed Morphus in New York City’s Union Square and the indoor/outdoor exhibit, Faces, at Didrichsen Art Museum in Helsinki. In 2013, Smit’s painting Kholiswa was awarded the Viewer’s Choice Award by the National Portrait Gallery in London, and selected as the ‘face’ of the BP Portrait Award 2013 for all campaigns. 

Smit’s fourth exhibition in Johannesburg, Manipulated Image,  opens Nov.14 at Everard Read Gallery. The series of new works is inspired by the digital age and manipulation of the image and explores how technology has influenced artists and the processes. The collection consists of multimedia paintings that are a combination of silkscreen and oil layering of duplicated imagery. Manipulated Image marks a departure from the artist's previous work. 

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Writer - Amber Nicole Alston


Amber Nicole Alston is a New York-based beauty and culture writer. Her work frames urban life, fashion, and beauty around specific histories and cultures. In addition to writing, Amber also styles and conceptualizes fashion shoots.