Reading the United “States”

Jaune Quick-To-See Smith's map can change minds

Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, State Names, 2000, oil, collage, and mixed media on canvas, 121.9 x 182.9 cm (Smithsonian American Art Museum). Speakers: Dr. Anne Showalter and Dr. Beth Harris

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Smith, State Names

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Key points

  • Adopting the iconic, recognizable shape of the American map but simultaneously obscuring it, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith complicates our understanding of the map and what it represents. She challenges the viewer to reconsider the physical and historical trace of a colonial past by removing the names of states derived from European settlers, highlighting places named from indigenous sources, and obscuring state and national boundaries.
  • Smith wants the viewer to realize that maps are political constructs, not neutral documents.
  • Smith draws on a range of art historical devices, but updates them to engage with contemporary political issues. For example, the dripping paint (commonly found in Abstract Expressionism) evokes blood or tears when placed against the map, and the black spaces of the oceans suggests an ominous feeling, marking this land as a contested space.

Go deeper

See State Names at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Jaune Quick-To-See Smith’s artist website

See an interactive map identifying the traditional territories of indigenous people throughout the world

Read about the ideological and political implications of cartography (map-making)

View this online exhibition on maps in American culture

Learn more about the history and cultural impact of Indian removal from their native land

Learn about Manifest Destiny and westward expansion in the United States

Learn more about Abstract Expressionism

More to think about

Look closely at Jaune Quick-To-See Smith’s State Names to find the state that you live or have close connections to. What do you notice about how it is depicted in the painting?  Discuss with your classmates what you know—or don’t know—about the indigenous people who originally inhabited the region. If you’re not sure, look on this interactive map to help identify the tribe and learn more about their culture and history.

Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.