Smith was raised in the former British colony of Tunapuna, Trinidad, a place that still has British traditions infused into their Native Culture. Much of his work addresses the multitude of cultural influence that he experienced, the struggle with identity that the locals felt, and his own influences from identifying with the West Indies, Africa, and even the British oppressors — not to mention his current home of New Jersey!
His assemblages, appropriately configured into the shape of the continents, are cobbled from found objects. Forming them in a shape of each region, Smith shows us literally the melting pot that makes up the world — directly relational to his Trinidad upbringing. Using junk that he finds on the street or from friends, Smith creates pieces that take on a narrative that brings the object’s history (or made up history) to the entire piece.
Toys, spools of thread, scrap metal, cardboard tubes and discarded brushes make up the continents (and a separate piece of his home state of New Jersey). He also uses found textiles and belts to create sculptures of soldiers, chickens and other characters. Each piece of trash is given new life in his installations.
Smith also constructs what he calls “Bundle Houses,” a series of shanty like sculptures made from found objects from the streets. The Bundle Houses evoke our city’s homeless, but Smith asks with them, “What if this is what we were left with?” And in a post-Apocalyptic sort of theory, we could be left with the junk we find on the street. Nyugen Smith’s sculptures force us to consider what might happen, while bringing the question of identity up for consideration.