A Q&A with Maureen Smith, the artist behind ‘Where the Tension Lies:’

1. Could you please describe the inspiration behind ‘Where the Tension Lies?’

I did a lot of research before starting this project. I read a lot about women’s rage and how it is covered in the media – especially given the current political climate. I found studies on anger and stress, and how those emotional experiences impact the body. There were also artists that inspired me, especially in creating the questions for the project and thinking about the interview process. I am inspired by artists like Mónica Mayer, and others who value participation and centering women’s narratives in their art. I was inspired by artists that have done powerful photo series for the visual component of the project – especially the work of Carrie Mae Weems and her work entitled The Kitchen Table Series, in addition to work of Janaina Tschäpe and her series entitled 100 Little Deaths. Both of those photo series featured different takes on women both in public and private space, and it provided me with a framework for beginning to understand what kind of vibe I wanted for the photo series. Ultimately, I wanted to explore the deeper implications of rage and stress on our bodies, while juxtaposing that with images that expressed power, joy, and comfort. I focused on creating images that were vulnerable and intimate, but also powerful and specific to the subject of the photo.

2. Why did you choose to highlight your friends in the series rather than people you do not know well?

I think a big part of working with my friends for the series was the level of vulnerability necessary to have candid conversations about emotional and physical experiences. Having my friends participate in the project felt like a natural fit. Part of my interest in talking about how we hold tension in our bodies and doing this project came from conversations with my friends. There were so many instances where my friends would express feeling pain and we’d have conversations about how our bodies were being impacted by stress. I began to think deeper and I wanted to draw the connection between what initially felt like an individual experience of tension, to what began to seem like a larger collective experience of how emotional experiences manifest in the body.

3. ‘Where the Tension Lies’ was previously shown at American University, can you describe some of the differences and similarities of having it shown at AU vs Independent Sector?

The show at American University was much more expansive and featured all 23 photos that were taken throughout the project. The exhibition at Independent Sector is definitely exciting because it will be up for three months and features a smaller selection of photos from the project. The opening at Independent Sector was awesome because so many different people got to interact with one another and it was beautiful to see new faces. I think having the show in a smaller setting was awesome because people were able to talk about the art. It felt like people connected to the show at Independent Sector, which was my favorite part.

4. What do you want people to get out of experiencing ‘Where the Tension lies?’

Above everything, I want people to connect with the exhibition. I think we all have similar experiences of holding tension within our bodies, and my hope is that people are able to think deeper about how their bodies are impacted by their emotional experiences. Beyond that I want people to acknowledge the importance of physical space in grounding ourselves, especially in maintaining a sense of comfort, power. and joy amidst all that life subjects us to.

5. Would you like to thank anyone in particular?

I would like to thank everyone who participated in the project – it would not have been possible without them. I would also like to thank Eileen Findlay, Diya Dhaliwal, and Gilda Goldental. They all contributed so much to making the exhibition possible and supporting the first show at AU. Lastly, I would like to thank my AOK family who supported me in making last week’s opening a reality and everyone who came out to the show – especially David, Bisah, and Nabil. It takes a village!

6. What’s next for you creatively?

I am opening myself up to new opportunities and have a couple projects on the horizon. I am looking forward to graduating from AU and having more time to spend on my art. I am also getting back to working on large scale paintings!

‘Where the Tension Lies’ will be showcased in the Independent Sector lobby located at 1602 L St NW Washington, DC until May so go check it out when you get the chance!