Brooklyn based Emily Mae Smith has been actively creating for the last two decades, but it is only in recent years that she has increasingly gained attention through a unique visual language in the form of a humble broom. A potent concoction incorporating pop culture, mythology and art history, through her works Smith serves a visual feast of glamour and whimsy, but the umami of the works lies in her commentary on gender, sexuality and representation.
Dust portrays a scene that was seemingly adapted from the iconic DreamWorks opening credits of a boy sitting on a crescent moon (see Robert Hunt, DreamWorks). In place of the boy is the artist’s signature avatar — an anthropomorphic broomstick figure inspired by the magic brooms from Disney’s Fantasia (1940), the figure sits atop of a crescent moon, its arm outstretched to catch the sparkling ‘dust’ of the night sky.
A symbol of women oriented domestic labour, the broom is Smith’s unique tongue-in-cheek way of representing the female figure. Her whimsical character is a rebellious reinterpretation of the often sexualised and seductive curving forms that have been extensively documented through the predominantly male gaze of art history, breaking down that objectification through the personalisation of a literal everyday object:
"The broom has become this really handy tool for me to work around the gendered connotations that you might get from painting the naked female figure. The broom is nude but you don’t really think about it." ―Emily Mae Smith
Also bearing close resemblance to the paintbrush – the broom personifies the voice of a women artist, illustrating in a wider context Smith’s ideas of feminism, gender roles and women’s position in society. Utilising the classic image that has illuminated television and cinema screens worldwide, Dust channels the emotional power of childhood memories and nostalgia with a fresh feminist twist.
Elegantly framing her composition with flat silhouettes of wheat stalks, the painting’s idyllic landscape is undoubtedly influenced by Smith’s hometown in Texas. The saccharine colours of the night sky, the crescent moon floating over pink clouds are rendered in soft, smooth gradients, lending the work its dreamlike, Disney-esque appeal. A nod to René Magritte’s surrealist landscapes (see for example René Magritte, Sixteenth of September, 1956), beyond the surface of her luminous work Smith casts a disruptive spell and awakens her audiences to its underlying thoughts and ideas on deep rooted issues in female representation in contemporary culture and history.
Emily Mae Smith has had solo exhibitions at the Consortium Museum, Dijon, France and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford in Connecticut. The artist’s work is also included in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.