Banshee Pearls

Copied Kiki Smith, Banshee Pearls, 1991, twelve lithographs with aluminum leaf additions on handmade Japanese paper, 2330 12 in. (58.577.5 cm) each, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Lichtenberg Family Foundation, 2004.6A-L, © 1991, Kiki Smith and ULAE

Artwork Details

Banshee Pearls
Universal Limited Art Editions
Not on view
2330 12 in. (58.577.5 cm) each
(for each print) back lower right in pencil: KS 25/51 lower left embossed: LAE U
© 1991, Kiki Smith and ULAE
Credit Line
Museum purchase through the Lichtenberg Family Foundation
Mediums Description
twelve lithographs with aluminum leaf additions on handmade Japanese paper
  • Figure — fragment — hand
  • Children
  • Figure female — fragment — face
  • State of being — phenomenon — surreal
  • Emblem — star
Object Number

Artwork Description

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