The Modern Features Native American Artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith’s Memory Map
By: Scotlyn Ogle
Last week, The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth opened its newest exhibit, Memory Map, featuring about 130 pieces of art created by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, spanning over the last 50 years.
Smith was born in 1940 on a Jesuit mission on the Flathead Reservation in Montana and is a citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation. Throughout her childhood, she experienced discrimination for her Native American background.
“When I was a little girl, we were asked to leave restaurants or stores with my father, who was very dark,” she said. ‘We don’t serve Indians here,’ So we didn’t wear anything that would identify us.”
When Smith eventually went to college to study art studies, she had never stepped foot into an art gallery or museum – she worked from experience, starting with landscapes, inspired by what she had seen growing up.
Over time, her work gradually became more political, eventually tying in textual concepts in 1989. She started by writing portions of speeches from Native chiefs, and after feeling like that wasn’t enough, started using newspaper clippings, claiming it as her ‘poetry.’
“My father said, ‘Don’t ever criticize white people because it will come back to haunt you, and you’ll get in trouble, but you can think it in your head,’” said Smith. “So I think that’s one reason why I started going to newspapers because it was a safe thing to do. It was already created, and I could cut it out and glue it on here.”
The Memory Map exhibit is not laid out chronologically; instead, it follows how Smith’s artistic style has evolved, eventually leading to more serious topics such as American colonialism and consumerism.
One section of the gallery displays her remapping series, which features multiple American maps in different styles and viewpoints.
For Smith, maps have always been abstract, and can be used as a visual representation of how Native Americans can view the land differently. Some maps are turned on their side to disorient viewers and force them to see a new perspective.
“We were here first,” Smith said. “We’ve been here since creation time.”
Another section of the gallery features a sculpture of a canoe coated in red ochre, filled with trash such as water bottles and coffee cups, as well as missionary crosses, that she created with her son, Neal Ambrose-Smith.
“For this piece, she was researching a Canadian tribe, and every spring they would paint everything with red ochre as a rebirth,” said Ambrose-Smith.
The piece represents things that can be viewed as modern-day problems (pollution, overconsumption, organized religion) being “renewed” with the red ochre – a chance to do things better.
Using both satire and humor, Smith’s work takes control of an underrepresented voice and blends traditional and modern-day themes with Native ideology, setting the record straight about commonly held misconceptions of historical narratives.
Despite growing up with a shadow of fear, she and her family now wear their traditional Native clothing with pride – They are proud of who they are.
There are still hundreds of Native groups that have yet to be formally recognized by the US government, and Smith continues to use her work to educate on the first Americans and the legacy that they leave.
Throughout her career, her work has been featured across the country, including at the Carnegie Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The largest and most comprehensive exhibit of Smith’s work to date, Memory Map will run through January 21st, 2024. Buy your tickets here.
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