In Trade Canoe: Forty Days and Forty Nights, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith draws on myriad images to create a cacophonous visual narrative signaling a possible future—mass flooding as a result of global climate change and rising sea levels. This painting, which Smith calls "a Salish version of Noah's ark," places Coyote, an important being from Salish creation stories, as the central figure. The canoe is filled with animals and plants, not from the Middle East, as described in the bible, but from her Salish homelands. In addition to replacing biblical images with Salish references, Smith also inserts art historical and pop cultural representations, including embracing figures a la Keith Haring, a surrealist-inspired eye, and a series of diminishing Tontos from the 1950s television show Lone Ranger and Tonto.
Forty Days and Forty Nights is part of Smith's well-known Trade Canoe series, which she began in 1992 as a critical response to museum and artistic celebrations in honor of the quincentennial anniversary of Columbus's arrival to the "New World." In her Trade Canoes and other large-scale paintings, Smith layers images, paint, text, and objects to convey the entangled webs of history, colonization, and extraction that characterize the multiplicity and complexity of American experience.
Smith is known for addressing issues of social justice within her work and is particularly concerned with issues impacting Indigenous peoples of North America. Utilizing humor as a tool for confronting painful subjects—as evidenced in The Rancher, which is installed across from Forty Days and Forty Nights—Smith's paintings invite audiences into difficult conversations and provoke reconsiderations of the visual landscapes that shape our understandings of Native Americans.
This exhibition was organized by the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth, and generously supported by the William Chase Grant 1919 Memorial Fund and the Leon C. 1927, Charles L. 1955, and Andrew J. 1984 Greenebaum Fund. It is on view through December 12, 2021.