Sunny A. Smith (f.k.a. Allison Smith) is a queer trans* non-binary artist and educator based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"Sunny A. Smith [...] utilizes their own family history and the objects passed down through generations to create a new material legacy. [...] For Smith, the process of learning and making in these old, slower ways becomes an act of repair—directly addressing the trauma their ancestors experienced and their family’s role in this country’s colonial history. But there’s a magical element here as well, with heirlooms recast as instruments of spiritual communication and time travel." —Sarah Hotchkiss, KQED

"Smith’s work draws on the cultural phenomenon of historical reenactment and the ways traditional crafts are often used in mythologizing narratives of nationalism. Having grown up with a sense of accountability for their predecessors’ roles in North American settlement, the American Revolution, the Antebellum South, and the Civil War, Smith’s work examines the ways that objects construct identity and 'heritage' while obscuring difficult histories and facts on the ground. [...] Through traditional crafts—linen-weaving, furniture-making, blacksmithing, and wood, pottery, and glass work—Smith builds new legacy objects from the inherited ones. The artist takes up the material footprints of family history and forges new connections to Earth, place, trades, and religious or spiritual practices." —The Compass Rose Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture press release

"Smith has a deep interest in historical reinterpretation [...]—not reenactment but reckoning. [...] Smith has woven a circle of their own ancestors, meant to give a clear look at the past and the present—a journey through the pandemic, which, for them, has become a time to look inward—and a spiritual guide for the walk ahead." —Kate Abbott, Climbing the Holy Hill review in The Berkshire Eagle

"Smith [...] critically engages how the performance and display of textiles have been implicated in the making of cultural values (particularly those related to nationalism)." —Susan Falls and Jessica R. Smith, Overshot: The Political Aesthietics of Woven Textiles from the Antebellum South and Beyond 

"Smith is a performance artist and sculptor whose cross-temporal practice is embedded in early American history. [Smith] often develops relationships with traditional makers as a way of exploring the history and resonant effects of material culture, spotlighting difficult issues in our nation’s past. Smith’s historical re-enactments invite viewers to revise their own perceptions of this history." —Glenn Adamson, Another Crossing press release

Smith "ponders historical patterns, specific incidents, traditionally held beliefs, shared memories, and recent momentous events, as the attacks by white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA. [Smith] creates sculptures, installations, and performances to put forward redirected emphasis and reconsidered viewpoints." —Ann Albano, Two of Wands press release

"The work of Virginia-born artist [Sunny A.] Smith focuses on how everyday objects of the past can become emblematic of national identity. Much of Smith’s practice involves creating site-specific sculptural installations, performances, and artist-led projects that encourage participants to take history into their own hands. Smith is notable for [their] dual commitment to objects and actions. [their] keen focus on material distinguishes her from other socially engaged artists, who often eschew 'things' in favor of direct action. Yet, as the artist is quick to point out, an object can be a conduit to spark dialogue and debate. Many of [their] most powerful works combine items from popular material culture in order to reveal hidden meanings and latent possibilities. [...] Smith often begins research for a new work by seeking out local makers of historic crafts and apprenticing [them]elf to them, thereby turning the act of making into a performance in and of itself. [...] Smith constantly asks: How can objects obstruct, disrupt, or interfere with social norms? How do materials and processes harbor traces of human activity and touch? How can sculptures spark action, violence, or change? Taken together, these emotionally charged sculptural objects exude an anxiety-infused aura, prompting viewers to consider contemporary debates around visual material culture, such as the removal of Confederate monuments, as a springboard for discussions on the potent materiality of sculpture and the complexities of what it represents." —Amy Owen, Be Not Still: Living in Uncertain Times exhibition brochure

"Smith brings together historical craft forms to expose our most pressing contemporary preoccupations." —Rita Gonzalez, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

"Smith utilizes handiwork and conventional modes of making as conceptual methods to investigate historical artifacts and their interpretation. [Their] installations are rich with allusion." —Julia Bryan-Wilson, Fray: Art+Textile Politics

"Smith is internationally known for [their] large-scale performances and installations that critically engage popular forms of historical reenactment and traditional craft, such as quilting, pottery, and wood-carving, in order to redo, restage, and regure conceptions of history and collective memory. Often calling attention to uncomfortable aspects of American culture, such as slaveholding, war mongering, and white nationalism, Smith offers material re-interpretations of the past in order to inform both our present and our future, reminding us with urgency that craft is never neutral." —Jennifer Baker, State of the World exhibition catalog

"Smith's attempts to recreate an early, nineteenth-century space of fantasy and play, with the aid of twenty-first-century material culture and photomechanical technology, lay bare the simple fact that certain textures go extinct—certain textures are irrevocably lost to the reception of our eyes, fingertips, and tongues. [...] It is here that Smith's artistic work takes hold, where [Smith] labors to disentangle our collective and personal fantasies of the past from the actual materials we have been bequeathed. [...] Smith's work physically sorts the pasts we are ever-producing (in a sense recreating) from the history we will ultimately leave for the future. [...] Smith has the uncanny ability to direct our attention to those instances where the textures are all wrong, and where it is impossible to get them right. This is not to shame museum preparators or historical reenactors into corrective action. By pinpointing these lapses, Smith releases us all from our obsessive, completist responsibilities, and from our desires for (historical) veracity and wholeness. By indulging in history's material inconsistencies, Smith allows us to focus on what we have 'at hand,' and to differently examine and experience the aesthetic possibilities of our surroundings and the complicated amalgamation of temporal and cultural matrices from which they are forged." —Nicole Archer, Set Dressing exhibition catalog
"Before [Sunny A.] Smith was crying out in San Francisco, [Smith] was peddling in Berkeley and across the Lakes District in Great Britain. Before that, [Smith] mustered in the Pennsylvania countryside and on Governors Island, just off the coast of Manhattan. Along the way [Smith] has been parading, gathering, apprenticing, servicing, stockpiling, demonstrating, and arming, to name a few of the ways in which [Smith] acts out in the world. [Their] acting out always occasions or is occasioned by making, as if acting and making might be the faces of a Möbius strip, where a line begun on one side seamlessly traverses to the other, and back again." —Elizabeth Thomas, The Cries of San Francisco exhibition catalog

"Across Smith's oeuvre, a range of contributors shape the work, such that the dispersed agency of multiple participants may be seen as a production methodology. In this sense, Smith's works can be considered forms of 'trading zones' for transacting money, labor, ownership, expertise, and historical interpretation." —Rebecca Uchill, FutureAnterior
"Artist [Sunny A.] Smith has been combing the metaphorical grounds of the Civil War and reenactment culture since receiving [their] MFA from Yale University in 1999. Smith forges ties between American history, social activism, and craft...As a feminist, Smith views history as contestable. History should be revised, retold, and reinterpreted. Moreover, dredging up a difficult or painful history can be cathartic." —Jacquelyn Gleisner, art:21
"Social practice is a relatively new term for art that puts less emphasis on objects made for individual contemplation and more energy into projects involving participation, activism or community organizing. Of course, plenty of artists were making art like this before critics and scholars christened it 'social practice.' One such artist is [Sunny A.] Smith. [...] So, the question arises: What makes it art? And particularly, in this case, what distinguishes [...] Smith’s practice from those of, say, re-enactors? The answer lies in the context ([...] Smith is a recognized artist and the venue is a contemporary museum), but also the subtler areas of approach. Rather than merely celebrating war or national identity, Ms. Smith questions these categories [...], and how what we call 'patriotism' might very well be viewed, from various perspectives, in a different light: Were American insurgents revolutionaries or terrorists? Who owns the claim on 'American' history? [...] While [...] Smith’s practice seems initially conservative—what could align [them] more with the Tea Party movement’s revival of colonial garb?—there is a serious and studied subversion at its core." —Martha Schwendener, The New York Times

"Smith’s work addresses national service while also upsetting stereotypes of the military, linking that world to craft in unexpected ways." —John Zarobell, Art Practical

"Smith casts a wide cultural net, but [their] focus on war and [their] desire to link it to the home is clear. Turning artifacts from each into handicrafts, [Smith] renders the military and the domestic equivalent—which is chilling." —Frances de Vuono, Art in America

"Smith’s works offer a contemporary investigation of pre-modern and early American craft, but viewed from perhaps an unexpected perspective: the convergence of art and war." —Allie Haeusslein, DailyServing
"Through [their] deployment of props, handicraft, recreated artifacts, and memorabilia, [Sunny A. Smith] allies the personal to a broader understanding of the social infrastructures that became part of an American nationalist culture. [Smith] reconfigures American nationalist mythology in order to interrogate a broader understanding of social mores within the complexities of U.S. history." "For artists like Smith […] different relationships are formed not only between the persistence of skills and an indebtedness to tradition - making a connection to the collective social message that imbued works from the 1960s and 1970s - but also to the process of crafting. […] since the mid-1990s 'relational aesthetics' has become an increasingly popular neologism for a series of practices identified in contemporary art by the French curator Nicolas Bourriaud. Central to Bourriaud's vision is the artist as a facilitator rather than a 'maker,' one who regards art as a form of information exchanged between audiences. The process of crafting, social interaction, and collaboration between the artist and audience embraces a creativity which permeates our personal lives at all levels and on a global scale." —Janis Jefferies, Extra/Ordinary: Craft and Contemporary Art

"Ideas from traditional public sculpture, socially engaged art, and performance all find expression in Smith’s work, but it is craft—an unlikely critical resource—that [Smith]situates between these apparently conflicting arenas of creative practice, thereby exposing their limits." "[Smith] brings modern craft’s conceptual hybridity—as an open-ended arena of social and material practice—into association with 'civic practices,' defined by sociologist Nina Eliasoph as 'the fundamentally sociable processes by which citizens create contexts for political conversation in the potential public sphere.'" "Utopian and critical approaches coexist, not always comfortably, within the marrow of this work. Smith calls attention to the unconventional contours of craft by using it to associate conflicting ideas about civic culture." "By foregrounding nineteenth-century notions of associational life, Smith [...] suggests the relevance of these ideas to contemporary political culture; however, Smith recognizes that dissensus and difference—and the messy process of working together—are more important to civic culture than individual expression." "Smith doesn’t view craft as inherently participatory; it’s not simply an activity that everyone may enjoy as a reflection of personal or cultural history, a repository of community values, or a respite from the dehumanizing features of modern life. Rather, Smith conceptualizes craft as carrying messages that may be variously productive, problematic, and political." —Jennifer Geigel Mikulay, Journal of Modern Craft

"[Their] subject is a skewed Americana at once nostalgic and biting, one that includes quirky re-creations of theorem paintings, Pennsylvania German sgraffito stoneware, mold-blown jelly glasses, walking sticks, paper flowers and paperback books, as well as such oddities as George Washington's Masonic apron. [...] Smith's work adheres to the convention of both the room-size museological display (Barbara Bloom, Fred Wilson and Mark Dion) and the handmade, not quite trompe l'oeil facsimile (Kevin Landers, Tom Friedman, Jonathan Seliger). To these precedents [Smith] adds a distinctive awareness of craft as technique, history and identity; a wonderful color sense; and intimations of narrative complexities that suggest the down-home equivalent of Matthew Barney." —Roberta Smith, The New York Times