Paul Chaat Smith presented at the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Seminar on New York and American Material Culture on Tuesday, September 26, at 6 pm. His talk was entitled “The Making of Americans.”

Americans, a new exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, takes aim at a paradox at the center of national life: Indians (as towns, states, sports teams, weapons systems, advertising) appear to be everywhere in the twenty-first century, yet actual Indians are nearly invisible. What does this wallpapering of the United States tell us about national consciousness, our collective past, and our shared future? Curator Paul Chaat Smith will preview the ambitious exhibition, which features a Tomahawk missile, a vintage Indian motorcycle, a massive Arrow Hotel sign, and over 300 objects and images from more than two centuries of American pop culture. The show demonstrates that this extraordinary phenomenon has no parallel anywhere else in the world. From our earliest memories and throughout our entire lives, Americans are surrounded by Indian imagery and names. Like wallpaper, it’s careful not to draw attention. But what if these things aren’t simply wrong, or kitsch, or stereotypes? What if these representations are actually symbols of tremendous power and significance, hiding in plain sight?

Paul Chaat Smith is an author, essayist, and curator. His books and exhibitions focus on the contemporary landscape of American Indian politics and culture. With Robert Warrior, he is the author of Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee (New Press, 1996), a standard text in Native studies and American history courses. His second book, Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong, was published in 2009 by the University of Minnesota Press. Smith joined the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in 2001, where he co-developed the inaugural history gallery and currently serves as Associate Curator. His exhibitions include performance artist James Luna’s Emendatio at the Venice Biennial, Fritz Scholder: Indian/Not Indian, and Brian Jungen: Strange Comfort. Smith is a member of the Comanche Nation. His middle name has no hyphen and rhymes with hot. Like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, he turned pro right after high school and has no college or university degrees.