Smail has done plenty of inventing (and reinventing) in her life so far, but it has all progressed naturally, and occasionally out of necessity. She grew up in Durban, South Africa, and she got her first degree in English and history. After getting married and having three children by the time she was 24, she decided to go to art school—partly because she didn't know anything about contemporary art. "I went to art school as if I was going to earn money from art," she says with a little smile. After a divorce, and after her kids grew up, her second husband got a job with Johns Hopkins University. So they left South Africa, before the end of Apartheid, to come to the U.S. in 1985. A few years later, Smail landed a teaching job at MICA, where she still teaches painting and independent studio courses (full disclosure: She was a professor for Performing Arts Editor Maura Callahan).