Yorkshire Sculpture International: Cauleen Smith

22 June – 29 September 2019

Exhibition in Gallery 4

From new work by international artists to sculpture drawn from world-class collections, this festival across Leeds and Wakefield showcases sculpture in all its forms.

Cauleen Smith (b. Riverside, California) is an interdisciplinary artist best known for her work in film. Reactivating archives and harnessing the possibilities of imagination, her work especially addresses issues faced by black women today.

Sojourner 2018 follows a lineage of sculpture, tracing a history of racism and resilience to offer a vision for the future. The journey started with a photograph Smith found of nine debonair black men standing in front of the Watts Towers in Los Angeles. Published in Life magazine in 1966, the image illustrated an article on the aftermath of the Rebellion Riots the previous year, following which the Towers were among very few structures that remained intact. Made by the artist Simon Rodia (1879-1965) outside his house, the Towers are a series of interconnected sculptures covered in a mosaic made from found materials. They feature in the wallpaper in this installation.

Another legacy of the Watts Rebellion was the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum. Purifoy (1917-2004), a sculptor who lived and worked in Los Angeles at that time, began to salvage materials scarred by the riots, making assemblages from street detritus. Escaping the city, Purifoy moved to the Joshua Tree Desert in the late 1980s. He lived there for the last fifteen years of his life, creating ten acres full of large-scale sculpture on the desert floor.

Smith reimagines Purifoy’s sculpture museum as the site of a utopian feminist community. A group of women in vivacious outfits gather among Purifoy’s sculptures to restage the Life magazine photograph. Smith’s film takes its name from and pays homage to activist Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), and to the spiritual journey upon which the film’s protagonists embark.

A further sculptural presence is made in the room. Two Rebeccas is a stand-in for Rebecca Cox Jackson (1795-1871) and Rebecca Perot (1818-1901), spiritualist founders and central to the first black Shaker movement in the United States. Jackson’s journal is considered the first black queer spiritual narrative in American history.

Smith received a BA from San Francisco State University in 1991 and an MFA from the University of California in 1998. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches at CalArts. Along with screenings at many international film festivals, her recent solo exhibitions include Cauleen Smith: We Already Have What We Need, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (2019) and Give It Or Leave It, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (2017); her work also featured in the Whitney Biennial, New York (2017).

About Yorkshire Sculpture International

Yorkshire Sculpture International is delivered by the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle made up of the Henry Moore Institute, The Hepworth Wakefield, Leeds Art Gallery and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It showcases the breadth and diversity of contemporary sculptural practice, inspiring audiences to rethink what they understand the form to be.

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Yorkshire Sculpture International in Leeds
Video credit: Film by Nick Singleton

At the Henry Moore Institute, Phyllida Barlow’s assertion that ‘sculpture is the most anthropological of the art forms’ brings together five extraordinary artists whose work looks at the relationship between material culture and an understanding of human history, present and future.

Within the trajectory and methods of anthropology lie the foundations of history and all social sciences. Objects play a pivotal role in that framework, with material culture often made to function as a form of black box recorder that can play back history, identity, belonging and difference. The exhibition at the Institute reflects upon this responsibility of objects.


Venue details

Venue address

Henry Moore Institute
The Headrow
United Kingdom
T: 0113 246 7467

Opening times

Galleries: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am - 5pm

Research Library: Monday to Saturday, 10am - 5pm; Sunday, 1 - 5pm
Archive of Sculptors' Papers: Tuesday to Friday, by prior appointment

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