Seven of Smith’s thickly impastoed, mixed-media paintings will be on view, as well as Trade Canoe: Fry Bread (2018), a canoe-frame sculpture cradling loaves of the Native American staple, fry bread.
The exhibition will include four of Smith’s Trade Canoe paintings, a series she began in the early-’90s. Smith recalls her father’s stories from childhood of older Native Americans—survivors, scarred from accepting blankets and other provisions from settlers in canoes. It was under the guise of “trade” that colonizers dealt many of their deadliest blows, from smallpox to land theft.
Works like Trade Canoe for the North Pole (2017) foreground contemporary concerns, like climate change, amidst unrelenting commerce. The canoe is loaded with cacti, palm trees, Lone Ranger comics, and bingo cards. This Noah’s Arc of American commercialism drifts onwards, perhaps fatally, as collaged text provides ominous reminders of our environment’s imperiled future. One characteristically glib headline pulled from a newspaper reads “Showing the Snow Who’s Boss.”
Her sculptural work, ostensibly celebrating the now ubiquitous Native American foodstuff, is similarly layered. The Navajo and Apache made the first fry bread from scant government provisions during the notorious Long Walk in 1964—a 400-mile, 18-day forced march away from their homelands during which many died. The bread is at once a symbol of cultural resilience and adaptability even as it is a reminder of immense cruelty.