The Art of Justice: Bayeté Ross Smith on Identity, Self-Reflection, and the Law

Watch Artist-in-Residence Bayeté Ross Smith discuss how he sees his art as a framework that challenges viewers “to question their pre-existing beliefs.”

The concept of identity “is one of the fundamental elements of human interactions,” explains Bayeté Ross Smith, Columbia Law School’s inaugural artist-in-residence. “It becomes profoundly interesting to become aware of other peoples’ way of framing the world so that we can learn new things from their [perspectives] . . . and they can learn new things from ours.” (Watch Ross Smith discuss his time at Columbia Law above.)

Ross Smith is a photographer, artist, and education worker who lives in Harlem and works at the intersection of photography, film and video, visual journalism, 3D objects, and new media. During his two-year residency, he produced two exhibitions, engaged the Law School community in discussions about art, led workshops about extended reality as an educational tool and how art and media can help address human rights issues, and even invited members of the community to participate in his work. 

For his ongoing Our Kind of People series, which was exhibited in Jerome L. Greene Hall from December 2022 to May 2023, he photographed students, staff, and faculty in the series’ signature style. Each subject was represented in a sequence of six blank-faced, side-by-side portraits set against a white backdrop. They dressed in a variety of different outfits from their own wardrobes to represent “all the different ways the same person might look on any given day.” The end results encourage viewers to be conscious of others, to examine their own identities, and to ask themselves, “How do I know what I know?”