Jaune Quick-to-See Smith has pushed the boundaries of Native American art since the 1970s with her expansive practice, activism, and advocacy. Her just-opened show “Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map” at the Whitney Museum of American Art is the first retrospective for an Indigenous artist that the institution has ever organized. It brings together five decades of Smith’s drawings, prints, paintings, and sculptures—including her iconic painting from 2000, Memory Map. Quick-to-See Smith has also been busy working as a curator of “The Land Carries Our Ancestors,” a survey of contemporary Native American art slated to open September 24 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Quick-to-See Smith spoke with Art in America about how she began making memory maps, the importance of Native languages, and bringing different communities together.
How did you start making memory maps?
I started making these kind of abstract landscape maps from fields of fireweed and mustard—things that I would see on my reservation—when I was in graduate school. In the early work from the 1970s, you can see these abstract maps with bars of color intermixed with pictographs. For roughly the last 50 years, I’ve been collecting books on pictographs, petroglyphs, and glyphs, and I visit sites. I’ve always had a long-running interest in how we Native people each see the land because we come from various terrains and geographical areas, all with different foods, housing, traditions, and origin stories. There are 561 federally recognized tribes and hundreds more that are not recognized.