Cauleen Smith

born Riverside, CA 1967
The artist Cauleen Smith sits in a chair in a pink top and green pants
Riverside, California, United States
Active in
  • Los Angeles, California, United States

Cauleen Smith is a filmmaker and artist. With a BA in cinema from San Francisco State University (1991) and an MFA in filmmaking from the University of California-Los Angeles (1998), her interdisciplinary work expands from histories and practices of experimental film, including structuralism, Third World cinema, and science fiction. Through immersive installations, moving-image works, sculpted objects, and textiles, she engages with non-Western cosmologies, Afro-diasporic histories, Black cultural icons, real and speculative utopias, and, in her words, “the everyday possibilities of the imagination.”

Her first feature film, Drylongso, garnered acclaim at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival and, in 2023, received a 4K restoration and rerelease by the Criterion Collection. From the mid-2000s, Smith increasingly presented in contemporary art contexts, where short films and videos, sequential screens, and expanded installations could enwrap visitors in her world-building projects. Interrelated bodies of works have been inspired by post-Katrina New Orleans; Afrofuturist musician Sun Ra; and a bookshelf of Black feminist literature, to name a few. In a 2020 interview, she observed, “Over time, the desire to see certain kinds of images has been replaced by a desire to communicate with the audience in a particular way. I used to be very focused on producing images or stories that I wanted to see, and now, I’m also trying to construct the films in a way that invites the viewer to understand how images are working on them.”

In addition to appearing in many group exhibitions, she has had solo exhibitions at MASS MoCA, Philadelphia’s Institute of Contemporary Art, and LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art, among others. Smith has received numerous grants and awards, including a Heinz Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her films screen internationally, and her works are in public collections around the world, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.



Media - 2020.54.1 - SAAM-2020.54.1_2 - 139600
Musical Thinking: New Video Art and Sonic Strategies
June 23, 2023January 28, 2024
Musical Thinking explores the powerful resonances between recent video art and popular music.

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This is a photograph of curator Saisha Grayson
Saisha Grayson
Curator of Time-Based Media