Mimi Smith: Being Female in Society

Mimi Smith says of her art, “I consider my work to be feminist, social, and conceptual, sculpture and drawing. Although my earliest work from the ‘60s was feminist in both a personal and political sense, there was no available vocabulary for it at the time and it often was misunderstood when I first made it. The word feminism was not a word in my own vocabulary until the early ‘70s, and then its ideas and actions inspired me with hopes and ambitions for things I had not previously imagined or even considered.”

Look closely and you might see not only clothing and clocks and full-sized representations of household goods, but meticulously measured and knotted threads among other domestic materials. The process, she says, “symbolized my existence, both visually and conceptually, which had become machinelike and repetitive.”

Born in 1942, Smith grew up in Milton, Massachusetts, earned her BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art, and received her MFA from Rutgers University in 1966. While her early works, despite being displayed, were largely ignored, many now repose in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, the Spencer Museum in Lawrence, Kansas and the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge. Her iconic clothing sculptures and installations have been recognized as having quietly created a revolution by using what was all around her in ways both intimate and prescient. Her pairing of surprising materials, from as far back as the 1960s, can still jolt the viewer.

Even when charming or humorous, her pieces can be dark and angry. See, for instance, an early work, Girdle, which she has called “an uncomfortable torture. It doesn’t let a woman breathe. It sticks to her like an octopus. It doesn’t let air in or out.” Or look at her bras, red and black, both titled Protector Against Illness, that are decorated with Tamoxifen pills. Truly, just as New York Times art critic Roberta Smith said of her knotted thread and tape measure installations, “they sparkle with light and wit and all the charm of children’s drawings, but in some ways they are quite mad.”


[Hint: We have tried out some zoom functions to highlight the details. Play around with the different magnifying tools and see what you get.]




Girdle: (made from rubber bath mats)

Girdle (made from rubber bath mats)

“One of the most frightening items of clothing that I can imagine…
an uncomfortable torture. It doesn’t let a woman breathe.
It sticks to her like an octopus. It doesn’t let air in or out.”




Protector Against Illness
(hangs on padded, luxury hangars)

Red Tamoxifen Bra

Red Tamoxifen Bra

Black Tamoxifen Bra

 Black Tamoxifen Bra

Breast cancer pills are delicately placed in the embroidered patterns.







“Shoes, Undershirts, and Underpants, as icons depicting the changes on the different ages
of a woman throughout her lifespan as seen through her clothes.”





Timelines: Socks





Camouflage Maternity Dress

Camouflage Maternity Dress
Now during wartime, women fight side by side with men.
The dress has a see-through pod for a growing baby.







“After we bought our place upstate I noticed that people would plant and grow
and tend to the most beautiful flowers and then build a cage around them
to protect them from the animals. I thought that is what we do to our children,
maybe to daughters specifically …”





Don’t Turn Back


Don’t Turn Back

Don’t turn back the hands of time; protect women’s right to choose.





  1. Very powerful pioneering work, so inspiring in it’s sincerity! Great to read and see. Feel as though this work influenced me significantly. It feels like the direct opposite of ‘cynical’ (which is not my taste)…Many Greetings and Congratulations to Mimi from Amsterdam.

  2. Dear Mimi,
    I’m glad to see this appreciative article on some of the many brilliant and barbed objects you have made over the years. Maybe the times are catching up with you.
    Carol Duncan

  3. Dear Mimi,
    Congratulations on this lovely spread of your work. So thoughtful, much beauty and a great sense of humor. You hit the nail on the head with your flowing commentary about women’s lives as young, middle aged and as elders. Don’t stop, you just keep that up.

    Best wishes, Jaune

  4. Magnificent work! I was blown away by the pieces shown here today, and look forward to seeing more. Shared with daughters and best friend. Elegant and resonant art. Thank you.

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