BAYETÉ ROSS SMITH
(b. 1976, Greenfield, MA; living and working in Harlem)
Multidisciplinary artist Bayeté Ross Smith uses photography, film, visual journalism, 3D objects, and emerging media to explore often-unvoiced histories, identity, community, beauty, and reciprocity. Additionally, he examines how identity and community form the basis of human interactions, the social systems we create, and our framework for seeing the world. His interactive works often immerse audiences in the sights and sounds of others’ history, from designing VR experiences based on oral histories that bring erased histories of racial violence to light, to creating sonic landscapes that develop a portrait of a community. His collaborative, public-generated photography projects also interrogate biases based on clothing, race, gender, and class signifiers. By incorporating elements of digital culture and interactivity, Ross Smith ensures his work remains accessible to a wide audience. His ongoing projects include Red Summers VR (2021), Got the Power: Boomboxes (2011), and Our Kind of People (2010). He works with Harvard University’s Project Implicit, alongside serving as a faculty member at NYU Tisch School of the Arts.
Ross Smith received a BS in Photography from Florida A&M University (1999), and an MFA in Photography from the California College of the Arts (2004). He has received several awards and distinctions, including Columbia Law School’s inaugural Artist-in-Residence, a Presidential Leadership Scholar, a TED Resident, and a POV NY Times embedded media-maker. His work remains in the permanent collections of institutions including the Smithsonian Institution, the Oakland Museum of California, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Brooklyn Museum.
WORK IN THE EXHIBITION
Through his multidisciplinary projects, Bayeté Ross Smith seeks to collaborate with members of diverse communities to explore often-unvoiced narratives. In his Got the Power: Boomboxes series, Ross Smith creates audio collages of oral history and songs focused around specific communities, intending to show how art empowers and liberates people across the globe, from Montgomery to Kyiv. In his iteration of the project for Uptown Triennial 2023, Ross Smith explores the 50th anniversary of the creation of hip-hop. His sugarcane and cotton boombox sculpture incorporates hip-hop freedom songs selected by local community members, oral histories discussing hip-hop as a personally liberating force, and historical accounts discussing the role of the sugar and cotton industries in building the billion-dollar economies of Western colonialism. Through this combination, he explores hip-hop’s origins in Black and Brown communities, its power as a spontaneous, collaborative art form, and how the profits from this art form as entertainment–much like the profits from the sugar and cotton industries–rarely remain within the communities from which the product originated. By making the mixtapes associated with the sculptures accessible online, Ross Smith makes this unique portrait of Harlem’s relationship with hip-hop as a liberating force accessible to a global audience.