This year, we are celebrating Native American Heritage Month and Native American Heritage Day with a blog series called Celebrating the Firsts: Shining a Light on Trailblazing Artwork by Native Artists. In this four-part series, we are recognizing five indigenous creators who have participated in our copyright system and enriched our culture. Join us on a journey of exploring the following dynamic works and the Native American authors behind them: Wynema: A Child of the Forest by S. Alice Callahan (1891), I See Red: Target by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (1992), Tribal Force by Jon Proudstar (writer) and Ryan Huna Smith (artist) (1996), and House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday (1968).
This blog post is the second in the series (read part one), and focuses on I See Red: Target, a painting by Juane Quick-to-See Smith (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation), which was the first painting by a Native American artist acquired by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The painting entered the National Gallery of Art’s collection in the summer of 2020.
I See Red: Target (1992) is a mixed-media work on canvas that stands eleven feet tall. According to the National Gallery of Art, the painting “addresses both local and national conversations around the commercial branding of Indigenous American identity through Smith’s deftly layered assemblage of printed ephemera and painterly touches.” In interviews, Smith has said I See Red: Target is about “Indians being used as mascots” and “Native Americans being used as commodities.”
According to the National Gallery of Art’s description of the painting, it “features at its top a target and dart game that gives the work its subtitle” and which is covered in darts arranged to look like feathers in a headdress. Below the target are two canvases stacked on top of each other, covered in a collage of newspaper clippings, a comic book cover, fabric, and a pennant. From the National Gallery of Art, “[t]he alternating bands of historic images of Native Americans used in a reservation community service notice bear the stain-like drips of bloodred paint, which serve as an evocative device throughout Smith’s I See Red series to call up issues of history, identity, race, and rage.”
In 1992, Smith created a series of artworks in response to the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s landing in North America, and I See Red: Target is one of the paintings in that collection.
Smith is an enrolled Salish member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation, Montana. She was born in 1940 on the Flathead Reservation in Montana and now lives in New Mexico. Smith earned an associate of arts degree at Olympic College in 1960, a BA in art education from Framingham State College in 1976, and an MA in visual arts from the University of New Mexico in 1980. Smith is deeply committed to increasing visibility for Native American artists, specifically Native women, and has talked about her generation of female artists breaking what she calls the “buckskin ceiling.”
As the artist, Smith is both the author and copyright owner of I See Red: Target because she created the painting, despite selling the physical painting to the National Gallery of Art. Copyright, a form of intellectual property, is separate and distinct from ownership of a physical object like a painting. The copyright owner maintains and controls the right to make copies, create derivative works, or license or transfer her rights through contracts. Read more about the rights copyright affords to visual artists like painters, and find curated resources to help you get started with a copyright registration application on our website.
As we celebrate Native American Heritage Month this year, we hope this series celebrating “firsts” will help broaden our collective understanding of what the copyright system encompasses and how to participate in it. Earlier this year, the Copyright Office published its 2022–2026 Strategic Plan, which sets out the Office’s key strategic goals; first among them is copyright for all. This means working to make the copyright system as understandable and accessible to as many members of the public as possible, including individuals and small entities as well as historically underserved communities. We are committed to this goal and are excited to see how Native American artists continue to contribute to copyright in the years to come.