headshot of a smiling woman with light, shoulder-length hair and wearing a black top.

Laura Smith

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR – Art, Art History, & Design

Laura Smith is an art historian with specializations in North American arts, Native North American arts, and photography.  She received a Ph.D. in art history from Indiana University in 2008, and holds a MA in art history from the University of New Mexico (2002).  As a child of the Civil Rights movement era, her teaching philosophy connects with the broader scope of her research to construct a more inclusive art history by bringing attention to the ways art institutions and the conventional boundaries of art history have privileged white male visual media and artists.  Her writings focus on Indigenous artists and subjects who have used/use technological inventions (such as photography, video, and digital media) to control representation, affirm and explore identities, and to challenge their disenfranchisement under American settler colonialism.  Her book Horace Poolaw, Photographer of American Indian Modernity ( University of Nebraska Press in June 2016) engages issues of American Indian identity, modernity, and sovereignty in the first half of the twentieth century, a period when a significant number of Indigenous people were profoundly aware of the power of mechanical representation, both in photography and film.  Using methods for understanding and visualizing modernity in diffuse and fluid formats, the book challenges singular and progressive notions of “the modern” upheld in settler art histories and museum exhibitions. As a curator, artist, collections manager, and teacher, she has engaged the research, care, and/or exhibition of artworks since 1993.  She received her BFA in Painting from Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, and worked at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology as a Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) project assistant (1994-1999). She is currently working on a collaborative research and pilot digital project entitled Navajo Peoples in 3D[http://smit1550.msu.domains/education/], which features a small group of early twentieth-century Keystone View Company stereographs (3d photographs) of Diné peoples and related materials.  Designed by a team from Michigan State University including Smith, MSU digital librarian Megan Kudzia, along with weavers Lynda Teller Pete (Diné) and Barbara Jean Teller Ornelas (Diné), Navajo Peoples in 3D will reevaluate Keystone Company stereographs by recognizing Indigenous ways of knowing and seeing the images.  It will archive and globalize Diné (Navajo) viewpoints on weaving and historic colonial 3D photographs. 


“Indigenizing Canadian Settler Monuments of Indians: Ehren Bear Witness Thomas’ Make Your Escape (2010),” in Visualities II:Perspectives on Contemporary American Indian Film and Art, Denise Cummings, ed. Michigan State University Press, February 2019.

Co-author with Heather Howard, Marsha MacDowell, and Judy Pierzynowski, “Indigenous Makers and the Animation of Material Narratives,” in Museums and Communities: Diversity, Dialogue, and Collaboration in an Age of Migrations, Jennifer A. Walklate and Viv Golding, eds. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, January 2019.

“On Indigenous Digit-al Media and Augmented Realities in Will Wilson’s eyeDazzler: Trans-customary Portal to Another Dimension,” PUBLIC: Art, Culture and Ideas, Special Issue: Indigenous Digital and New Media Art, Julie Nagam, Carla Taunton, Heather Igloliorte, eds., December 2016.

Horace Poolaw, Photographer of American Indian Modernity, University of Nebraska Press,  2016
“Complex Negotiations: Beadwork, Gender, and Modernism in Horace Poolaw’s Portrait of Two Kiowa Women,” in Locating American Art:  Finding Art’s Meaning in Museums, Cynthia Fowler, ed., Ashgate. Winter 2016.

“Beaded Buckskins and Bad-Girl Bobs: Kiowa Female Identity, Industry, and Activism in Horace Poolaw’s Portraits,”  in For the Love of His People: The Photography of Horace Poolaw, exhibition catalogue.  New York and Washington, D.C.: The National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, in association with Yale University Press, 2014.

“Modernity, Multiples, and Masculinity:  Horace Poolaw’s Postcards of Elder Kiowa Men,” Great Plains Quarterly31 (2), Spring 2011.

“Picturing Zuni in the New Deal Era: The Clara Brignac Gonzales Collection of Zuni Day School Drawings and Paintings, 1925-1945,” American Indian Art Magazine, Spring 2005.

“Photography, Criticism, and Native American Women’s Identity: Three Works by Jolene Rickard,” Third Text, 19:1, 2005.


Email: smit1550@msu.edu


Office: KAC 105e