Rowan Smith


Rowan Smith was born in 1983 in Cape Town, South Africa and has been hailed as one of the country’s ‘Bright Young Things’ by Art South Africa, the continent’s leading art publication. Smith completed his BA in Fine Art at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2007 (winning the Michaelis Prize for top graduate) and received his MFA degree at the California Institute of the Arts in 2012. Upon graduating he was awarded the prestigious Joan Mitchell MFA Grant. Smith presented his acclaimed debut solo exhibition Future Shock Lost at WHATIFTHEWORLD in 2008, followed by If You Get Far Enough Away, You’ll Be On Your Way Home in 2009, No Everything in 2014 and Chamber of Mines, in collaboration with Xhanti Zwelendaba, in 2016. He has also exhibited a solo presentation with the gallery at VOLTA NY in 2012. Smith has appeared in a number of group exhibitions both locally and internationally, including Cape to Tehran at Gallery MOMO in Cape Town (2018); Broken English at the Tyburn Gallery in London (2015); Green Flower Street at the Istanbul Off Biennial (2013); COME ON YOU FUCKERS (in collaboration with Ingrid Lee) at The Wulf in Los Angeles (2012); Ampersand at the Daimler Contemporary in Berlin (2010) and Objects of Revolution at Dominique Fiat Gallery in Paris (2009). The artist’s work is included in the Hollard Collection in Johannesburg.


Rowan Smith’s work takes the form of a multidisciplinary semiotic investigation into the ways in which cultural signs and signifiers can be read as artefacts. He examines how the meaning embedded in these artefacts fluctuates (and frequently deteriorates) in relation to ever-shifting sociopolitical contexts; often assuming a self-critical position which responds to his locality. Most recently, Smith has focussed this lens on the complexities and contradictions of post-apartheid South Africa in terms of class, capitalist economy, nationalism, globalisation and the relationship between the pervasive legacy of the past and the undefined present. He examines these concepts through acts of appropriation, defacement, destruction and reparation. By visualising the destruction of a society in this way, he intends to highlight the flaws embedded in its underlying structures that they may be acknowledged and confronted. Crucially, the physical materiality of the works is as important to his investigation as the concepts informing them; the two work in tandem in order to extrapolate the themes inherent to the artwork.

Selected Solo Exhibitions

2018 Dead Centre - WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
2016 Chamber of Mines - WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
2014 No Everything - WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
2012 VOLTA NY, New York City, New York, USA
Where There Is Smoke, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California, USA
2011 How Are You All Feeling Tonight?, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California, USA
2009 If You Get Far Enough Away, Youʼll Be On Your Way Back Home, WHATIFTHEWORLD Gallery & Co-Op Gallery, Johannesburg
2008 Future Shock Lost, WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town

Selected Group Exhibitions

2022 Seeds of the Fig - WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
2018 Cape to Tehran, Gallery MOMO, Cape Town
2016 Negative Space - WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
2015 Foreign Bodies - WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
Broken English, Tyburn Gallery, London
2014 Uncertain Terms - WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
Bazaar, Atlantic House, Cape Town
2013 Green Flower Street, Istanbul Off Biennial, Istanbul
FNB Johannesburg Art Fair, Johannesburg, South Africa
Positive Tension - WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
Speak Now, Deering Estate, Miami, Florida
2012 Closer, Spinello Projects, Miami, Florida
"COME ON YOU FUCKERS", The Wulf, Los Angeles
2011 Hegemony is a Hard Word to Pronounce, Main Gallery, California Institute of the Arts
We Got Next, Untitled Art Projects, Los Angeles
Circulate, Exchange: nugget and gravy, White Gallery, UCLA, Los Angeles
Chain Letter, Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Los Angeles
2010 Ampersand: A Dialogue of contemporary art from South Africa & the Daimler Art Collection, Daimler Contemporary, Berlin, Germany
Twenty: South African Sculpture of the last two decades, Nirox Sculpture Park, Johannesburg
Ways of Seeing, ORE Gallery, Cape Town
2009 Holiday, WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
Wood, Association for Visual Arts (AVA), Cape Town
Social Pattern, Association for Visual Arts (AVA), Cape Town
Printing Money, South African Print Gallery, Cape Town
Objects of Revolution, Dominique Fiat Gallery, Paris, France
2008 Prints and Editions, WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
Greatest Hits 2007, Association for Visual Arts (AVA), Cape Town
2007 3C - Committee and Critics Choice, Association for Visual Arts (AVA), Cape Town
Creatures Great and Small, WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
Choice Assortment, WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
Not Yet Famous: Nobody Likes Nothing, WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town

Art Fairs

Cape Town Art Fair 2024
Miart 2024
Artissima 2023

Permanent Collections

Hollard Collection, Johannesburg

Selected Publications

2016      No Everything 

2014      Rowan Smith