Forgiving Strands, 2014–16. Clothing, fabric, artist-made textiles accessories, pillows and bedding, yarn, ribbon, rope, acrylic, bleach, spray paint, and fabric dye, 960 x 240 x 180 in. Photo: Michael Juliano, Courtesy the artist

Shinique Smith and the Politics of Fabric

Shinique Smith has often related how reading a 2002 article in The New York Times Magazine prompted a new sculptural language in her work. “How Susie Bayer’s T-Shirt Ended Up on Yusuf Mama’s Back” traces the journey of a used T-shirt from the Upper East Side of Manhattan to Jinja, Uganda—part of a global trek of donated clothing from rich to poor countries. Smith focused on the clothing, on the opposing politics of excess and need, and on the method whereby thousands of pounds of cast-off garments were gathered into neat layers, forced into four-foot-high bales, shrink-wrapped, and cinched with metal straps. The tightly uniform vocabulary of these parcels—each one composed of apparel once belonging to and then discarded by countless individuals—fascinated the artist, and the imagery lingered in her mind . . .

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