Exhibition on view at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, April 28, 2023 through February 25, 2024.
The year 1898 was a flashpoint that brought about profound geopolitical changes. Expanding beyond its continental bounds, the United States, a country born of an anticolonial struggle, transformed itself into an empire by seizing the remaining Spanish possessions in the Caribbean and the Pacific, and securing Hawai’i as part of its dominion. Three contentious events heralded this sea change: the Spanish-American War (henceforth the War of 1898), with its invasions of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam; the Joint Resolution to annex Hawai’i; and the Philippine-American War. These events had profound implications for the lands involved, as well as for residents of the United States—and indeed for the course of modern history.
On the 125th anniversary of these conflicts, portraiture puts faces to these places and presents this history from multiple perspectives. Patrons of portraiture wielded the craft as an instrument of nation building, and in the lands whose sovereignty the United States assailed or dissolved, as a tool of resistance or affirmation. The legacy of U.S. imperialism continues to be contested today, both politically and constitutionally. This exhibition captures these debates and recognizes that the Smithsonian Institution’s collecting practices legitimized the imperial project.