Laura E. Smith

Associate Professor of Art History, Michigan State University


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.  By interpreting and visualizing modernity in diverse 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 recieved 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).