A pioneering figure within the Los Angeles performance art scene in the late 1960s and ’70s, Barbara T. Smith cofounded a space where she held her own performances and helped to facilitate exper- imental works by others. For over 50 years, Smith has undertaken empowering investigations of death, femininity, motherhood, sexuality, and spirituality. She is best known, however, for controversial performances in which she sought to question traditional gender roles and spiritual identity.
For the performance and resulting installation Nude Frieze, Smith conjured ancient Byzantine murals as well as present-day construction sites. Wearing welding goggles, the artist, acting as architect, sat at a high drafting stool and made drawings during the performance, which was accompanied by sacred Gregorian chanting interspersed with rock music. Meanwhile workers, directed by a foreman, labored together to suspend human subjects onto the gallery walls using staple-reinforced duct tape. The naked subjects formed a living frieze evocative of antiquity. Before the models were extracted from this test of endurance, pencil lines were drawn between the figures to create a field of lines to preserve their residual shapes. As Smith explains, the gallery “remained a sanctuary to visit for the rest of the month.”