Divine Southgate-Smith
Soup Gallery
6th July - 12th August 2023

Soup presents the gallery’s second exhibition, Divine Southgate-Smith’s debut solo TEETH KISSIN’. Southgate-Smith (she/they) is a Togolese-British transdisciplinary artist and graduate of both The Royal Academy of Arts’ Royal Academy Schools (Postgraduate Diploma, 2022) and Central Saint Martins (BA Fine Art, 2017).

Southgate-Smith has developed a collaborative, medium non-specific approach to art-making as part of a practice that spans photographic collage, sculpture, moving-image, performance, writing, spoken word and 3D animation. By questioning the traditional equation between sight and understanding, she/they can present complex narratives that reside within speculative spaces, where ideas are abstracted, contextualised, de-contextualised, voiced or silenced. Inviting the viewer to observe and examine visual representations of the future whilst remaining in constant dialogue with the past, Southgate-Smith touches on themes of oppression, stereotyping, intersectionality, empowerment and joy whilst referencing and re-thinking articulations of the black, queer and female experience. She/ they rely on a carefully considered balance of research and artistic intuition, often turning to literature, music, community and archival material as primary sources for imagination, inspiration and creation.

For TEETH KISSIN’, Southgate-Smith presents a selection of artworks from her/their ongoing photographic collage series ‘What I’ve Been Doing Lately’ and sculptural series ‘MELA-9’, the latter accompanied by an assortment of the artist’s own collected miscellanea and a corresponding research archive kindly loaned from the Sainsbury Centre of Visual Arts in Norwich. These feature alongside new collaged constructions and a complementary playlist created in conversation with Daniel Kabuya. The exhibition’s title references the nuanced non-verbal gesture of ‘kissing your teeth’, which since childhood the artist has employed as an expression of objection, agreement, ridicule and love. An intimate communicative tool used habitually in Black communities to convey a variety of emotions or opinions, here Southgate-Smith adopts the moniker as short-hand for a space within which the personal, historical or cultural can be addressed through storytelling and collective healing.

‘What I’ve Been Doing Lately’ explores archival imagery as a potent source of poetic utterance. Combining photographic, musical and literary references, Southgate-Smith’s compositions capture fragments of black experiences with multi-sensory resonance, allowing viewers to engage with the deliberate interventions both intellectually and emotionally. The series’ title is borrowed from Jamaica Kincaid’s 1981 short story, featuring an introspective narrative and a protagonist recounting moments from her life that blur the line between memory and imagination. Southgate-Smith aims to embody a similar approach to storytelling, where historical and cultural anchors, alongside the creative potential of archives, are used to visually convey the collective complexities and realities of the black experience. Much of the original imagery for the series is sourced from John H. White’s photographic series ‘Portrait of Black Chicago’, which resides within the National Archives and Records Administration (United States). Originally commissioned as part of the Environmental Protection Agency`s DOCUMERICA project, White was assigned to document “subjects of environmental concern” on the South Side of Chicago in 1973/74, but instead found a resilient community of Black residents facing difficult circumstances with “spirit, love, zeal, pride and hope”.

Southgate-Smith’s ‘MELA-9’ series of sculptures act as an ongoing study of African craft and design, with a focus on the expression of both form and functionality. Stemming again from the artist’s understanding of archiving as a tool from which to extract knowledge and imagined realities, she/they respond to objects interned within museum collections, where context, function and even spiritualism are all too often erased. The red, resin form presented in this exhibition reflects the artist’s engagement with two traditional African Suku cups, currently part of the collection at Norwich’s Sainsbury Centre of Visual Arts. Wooden copies of drinking vessels carved from pumpkin-shaped gourds, halved vertically, each are decorated with depictions of the hemba nkisi, a northern Suku charm and initiation mask intended to ward off unauthorised use of the cup. Southgate-Smith’s playful reflection and reimaging of these ancient artefacts guide the viewer through a pre-colonial landscape whilst simultaneously projecting them towards multiple potential futures.

Selected Press: 

Emergent Magazine

Mousse Magazine

FAD Magazine

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