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Dr Kathryn Smith

Kathryn Smith is an interdisciplinary visual artist and curator with an extensive exhibitions and publications history. A graduate of visual art and applied science programmes at Wits University (BAFA, MAFA), the University of Dundee (MSc Forensic Art) and Liverpool John Moores University (PhD Forensic Art), she is also trained in forensic facial imaging and advocates for vital pracademic exchange between operational, institutional and research environments. She engages dialogical and co-creative methods in which personal orientations, audiencing and the particularities of site are prioritised, with a special interest in the reconstruction or re-mediation of received or retrieved information of all kinds. Her creative practice seeks a critical and poetic interface with the forensic imaginary and related processes of truth-making. Curatorial processes become a creative methodology in which art and artefact are placed in critical and mutually generative conversation.


Two significant curatorial projects span interests in the socio-political impact of experimental practices (Dada South? with Roger van Wyk and Lerato Bereng, Iziko South African National Gallery, 2009), and the dynamic ambiguity – and ethical precarity – of the living and dead body as ‘knower’ and ‘knowledge object’ (Between Subject and Object: human remains at the interface of art and science, with Josephine Higgins and Penny Siopis, Michaelis Galleries, 2014).

The touring exhibition Poisoned Pasts: Legacies of the South African chemical and biowarfare programme (with Chandré Gould and Brian Rappert) was commissioned by the Mandela Foundation in 2016 and has since travelled to the Steve Biko Centre (Eastern Cape) and the Ditsong National Museum of Cultural History (Pretoria). 


Recognising art and science as complementary rather than contending knowledge systems is a creative and political imperative. Her forensic and curatorial work come together as dual expressions of critical care for bodies, infrastructures and non-human things, directed at mutual visibility and legibility. She nurtures active relationships with ‘industry’ which mutually benefits her teaching and research, and develops professional opportunities for students. An ongoing collaboration with the A4 Arts Foundation focuses on the curatorial arts and imaging new institutional forms, and various co-investigations in the forensic identification space explore the affordances of forensic humanitarianism and citizen forensics, particularly in challenging the legacies of gender and racial bias in forensic and policing cultures. Her doctoral research project, Laws of the Face: Restaging Forensic Art as a counter-forensic device, contributed to a repositioning of post-mortem Forensic Art practices in relation to forensic humanitarian discourse and historical restitution initiatives, informed by participant-observer fieldwork and operational reviews conducted with over seventy participants in ten countries, which is partly documented in, an experiment in creative research publication. 


Her work has been exhibited in all of South Africa’s major public museums, and she has participated in a number of international biennials as either artist or curator, including in Havana (2012), Moscow (2010), Morocco (2009) and Sydney (2009), and has presented solo exhibitions in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Stockholm. 

She has been the recipient of a number of awards and grants, including the Standard Bank Young Artist Award (2004), Chevening (2012), the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust (2012), an NRF freestanding scholarship (2016-2019) and a National Geographic Society Explorers Grant (2019-2020).


She has been invited to deliver talks and seminars at institutions across South Africa and internationally, most recently for the Glasgow School of Art/University of Glasgow’s MPhil in Curatorial Practices; Pitt Rivers Museum Seminar in Visual, Material, and Museum Anthropology, University of Oxford; the Department of History, University of Liverpool; the Centre for Translating Cultures, University of Exeter; the Institute for Advanced Studies, UCL; the Royal College of Art, London; and MPhil Forensic and Biomedical Sciences, UCT.

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