With Drawn Arms: Glenn Kaino and Tommie Smith

Friday, November 1, 2019Sunday, April 5, 2020
Organized by Lauren Schell Dickens, curator

Glenn Kaino
Bridge, 2013. Fiberglass, steel, wire, and gold paint, installed at 5x5, Washington DC.

With Drawn Arms is a collaboration between the Los Angeles-based conceptual artist Glenn Kaino and the Olympic gold-medalist sprinter Tommie Smith, who famously raised his fist in protest at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. The exhibition commemorates Smith’s iconic gesture—an act of protest against international human rights abuses and a symbol of solidarity with the civil rights movement in the United States—and explores its continuing resonance today. 

In 1968, 24-year-old San José State University student Tommie Smith won first place in the 200-meter men’s race at the Olympic Games in Mexico City. During the awards ceremony, while the American national anthem played, Smith accepted his medal, raised his gloved fist, and then bowed his head. This powerful image of protest has circulated beyond time and context. Now, 50 years later, it has become a symbol for a myriad of beliefs, ideas, and social causes.

Glenn Kaino is an internationally renowned conceptual artist whose work often explores the spaces between the memories and history of revolutionary moments. Since he and Smith met several years ago, this unlikely duo—a 42-year-old fourth-generation Japanese American and a 71-year-old African American athlete, have been collaborating on projects and programs around the world, engaging diverse voices in a cross-cultural and cross-generational conversation about social justice and the power of the individual to enact change.

The focal point of With Drawn Arms is the monumental Bridge, a 100-foot-long hanging sculpture made of gold-painted fiberglass casts of Smith’s arm and clenched fist arranged like vertebrae in a long serpentine spine. Described by Kaino as a “golden path leading forward from the present, but connected to the past,” the suspended track reimagines Smith’s individual act of defiance as an undulating platform on which subsequent generations stand “on the backs of giants.” The exhibition also includes an eponymous feature-length documentary film by Kaino and Afshin Shahidi on Smith’s legacy (slated for wide release in Fall 2019), sculptural installations, and memorabilia from Smith’s personal collection.


Glenn Kaino (b. 1972, Los Angeles) received his BFA from the University of California, Irvine, in 1993, and his MFA from the University of California, San Diego in 1996. Kaino draws on his undergraduate education in computer science and formal training as a sculptor to make work that spans a wide range of media and creative activity. He engineers large-scale installations and site- or situation-specific sculptural works that are infused with sociopolitical commentary. In 2012, he was selected by the US Department of State to represent America in the 13th International Cairo Biennale, and was included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the 12th Lyon Biennial in Lyon, France; and Prospect 3 in New Orleans.

Dr. Tommie Smith (b. 1944, Clarksville, Texas) is a sprinter, civil rights activist, author, speaker, and scholar. While attending San José State University on an athletic scholarship, Smith excelled on one of the most competitive teams in collegiate sprinting history, and became an icon of the civil rights movement at the 1968 Olympics. Since retiring from sprinting, Smith has taught sociology at Oberlin College and Conservatory and has been an active public speaker. He currently lives in Stone Mountain, Georgia.


With Drawn Arms is made possible, in part, by a generous award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Sponsored by McManis Faulkner and Tad Freese and Brook Hartzell.