Jersey City-based artist Nyugen Smith transforms cast-off objects like rubber gloves and reclaimed wood into incredible, stacked art installations that address the issues of colonialism throughout history. Each found piece is assigned a new narrative from its former use, helping the artist tell his story. Smith’s latest solo show is on view at Chelsea’s 40Owls Gallery, a pop-up that will last through July.
Upon arriving at the gallery, visitors are greeted by a series of box conglomerations crafted by Smith. Raised in Trinidad, Smith was heavily influenced by both the native culture and the effects of its former colonization by the British, which brought many African influences to the region. The resulting pieces bear marks of British imperialism. Tri-corner hats adorn soldiers made from reclaimed wood and cork, as well as tea bags and photographs of the artist drinking high tea – both representational of British customs.
Also present are elements of the British exploitation of the area, such as sugar, which was taken and exported from the Caribbean colonies. Spools of thread representing the textile industry stand next to native elixirs and ointments, housed in a sculptural assemblage. Old wooden boxes are turned into picture frames, with mini tableaus of found objects inside.
In 40Owls’ back room, a miniature farm is represented, with a reclaimed wood structure that mimics the motions of a hard-working farm animal. Dozens of inflated latex gloves line the underside of the wooden beast, as if swollen with milk. A dirt farm with meandering animals supports the base of the wooden installation, completing the representational farm.
Smith’s usage of reclaimed materials is not at first apparent. Each element seems purposeful, and as if its former usage has never been of any importance. The incredible show takes visitors through a tour of history, while giving insight to the artist’s first hand experience with the lingering effects of colonialism.