My dream is for art to connect South Africans. We are linked through our emotions


“I think intimacy in art is created by the viewer,” says Lionel Smit. The philosophy makes Smit’s audience a part of his creative process. While his hands mould the work, it remains incomplete until the viewer has connected with it emotionally. It sounds wonderful in theory, profound to those who have yet to encounter aesthetics or the philosophy of art, but it’s challenging in practice.

That is Smit’s journey at present, to discover how people might connect with his art emotionally before knowing anything about it. Art is in his genes – his father is a sculptor – but Smit has branched off on his own path of creative understanding. And the international art world is taking note. His work is currently on display in Union Square, New York and Helsinki, Finland.

“Emotionally people are pretty much the same,” Smit says. He uses art to cut through barriers and reach a common emotional core. His paintings and sculptures deal with identity and finding shared experience in a country fractured by racial divide. Empathy and sentiment allow people to connect regardless of background, age or world view. Smit’s life and work are an attempt to find commonality despite our differences.