Mary T. Smith — Mississipi shouting



Mary T. Smith
Mississipi shouting

Past: January 22 → March 2, 2013

Mary Tillman Smith, born in 1904 to a family of sharecroppers in Martinsville, Mississippi, suffered from a hearing impairment that isolated her as a child, leading her to develop a powerful creative urge coupled with remarkable resilience. She had no choice but to start work on the farm at a young age, but used the earth in the fields to trace strange drawings and words. It was only late in life that she began to transcribe her own individual cosmology in painting, using scrap pieces of corrugated iron and planks of wood that she placed on and around her humble bungalow.

In establishing her unique vision of the world and using it to transmit a message to passers-by, she invented what might be called art’s answer to the blues, with her paintings acting as supreme interpreters of forces that were greater than her. While art gave her a certain dignity, she in turn rid art of its bland conventionalism, turning it into a manifesto. Her manifesto was powerfully positive, subversive even, despite the abundance of religious references. The aesthetics that Daniel Soutif refers to as “sunny” create a constant blurring of the human and the divine, taking us back to the deep roots of creation. Smith’s work, like that of other artists from the Deep South, was much admired by Jean-Michel Basquiat, who certainly drew on it for a repertoire of images that was as primal as it was radical. Mary T. Smith, who died in poverty in 1995, is now recognised as one of the greatest figures of African-American Art Brut. Her work resonates to this day, like a scream.

03 Le Marais Zoom in 03 Le Marais Zoom out

3-5, passage des Gravilliers

75003 Paris

T. 01 53 33 01 70

Arts et Métiers

Opening hours

Tuesday – Saturday, 2 PM – 7 PM
Other times by appointment

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The artist

  • Mary T. Smith