Leslie Smith

Certain images are burned into our brains: a pyramid of naked men on their hands and knees, hoods over their heads, overseen by grinning U.S. soldiers; the infamous hooded man in a tattered sheet, standing balanced on a cardboard box with wires dangling from his fingers. These are among the visions left us by the United States’ activities in Abu Ghraib prison, during the early years of the Iraq War. Leslie Smith has absorbed the Abu Ghraib photographs into his imagination and created a body of work that both responds to those events and turns inward from their realities to a more inchoate place.

Some of Smith’s paintings directly reference the cruel inventions of American prison guards, such as “Standard Operating Procedure,” where the human pyramid makes an appearance. Others, like “Dead Weight,” feature what seem to be disembodied feet, reminiscent of the photos of one Iraqi prisoner’s corpse. Still other paintings seem to have originated with these images, but have become more unrecognizable, as in “Peter”, where Smith takes us closer to the realm of the ineffable, charting a course through an array of reactions to our obscene capacity for inflicting pain: stark recognition, efforts at comprehension, and finally, deep internalization.

Profile by Daniel Gerwin
Image: Standard Operating Procedure, Courtesy of the Artist


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