Larger Type
Smaller Type

Search Collections

Banshee Pearls

1991 Kiki Smith Born: Nuremberg, Germany 1954 Universal Limited Art Editions (Publisher) twelve lithographs with aluminum leaf additions on handmade Japanese paper 23 x 30 1/2 in. (58.5 x 77.5 cm) each Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum purchase through the Lichtenberg Family Foundation © 1991, Kiki Smith and ULAE 2004.6A-L Not currently on view

Exhibition Label

The title Banshee Pearls refers to ancient female spirits, the banshees of Gaelic folklore whose high-pitched wails presaged a death in the family. Smith remembers her father calling her a banshee as a teenager, and she embraced the idea of herself as a death figure.
Multiple self-portraits in different scales are interspersed with skulls, masks, and beast-like forms. Smith was intrigued by distortions of her own face, especially those that made her horrific-looking. The lithographic plates were made from photographs and photocopies of her face, and printed in both negative and positive registers. She used childhood photographs, prints of her own hair, and impressions from her teeth pressed against the photocopier. The flowers and heraldic symbols drawn on the plate with tusche introduce a counterpoint of beauty to the otherwise grotesque imagery.
Smith frequently creates images of the human body and its parts, both internal and external. The multiple images and repeating rectangular form of the sheets set up a rhythm that recalls such bodily rhythms as the pulse, the heartbeat, the menstrual cycle – all unseen, but essential to life. The twelve prints of Banshee Pearls were intended to be seen together, but the artist encourages rearranging the order and the overall format of the series. Her art is non-hierarchical, open-ended, and subject to personal interpretation.

Multiplicity, 2011



Emblem - star

Figure female - fragment - face

Figure - fragment - hand

State of being - phenomenon - surreal

graphic arts - print

About Kiki Smith

Born: Nuremberg, Germany 1954

About Universal Limited Art Editions

More works in the collection by
Kiki Smith

More works in the collection by
Universal Limited Art Editions