1898: About This Exhibition

portrait of a Hawaiian queen
Portrait of Queen Lili`uokalani / William F. Cogswell / c. 1891-92, Oil on canvas / Hawai'i State Archives


Through portraiture, biography, and visual culture, 1898: U.S. Imperial Visions and Revisions brings together some of the stories of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, and Hawai‘i ––the lands brought under the sovereignty or sphere of influence of the United States in 1898. The National Portrait Gallery traditionally has focused on representing people from the continental United States and passed over the historical figures from these islands, but today we aim to tell a more complete history by amplifying those lesser-known voices.  

This exhibition also points to past collection practices of the Smithsonian Institution, which, in alignment with government interests, reinforced empire. For the purposes of this show, we are relying on the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definition of empire as “a major political unit having a territory of great extent or a number of territories or peoples under a single sovereign authority.” 

We are profoundly grateful to the numerous individuals whom we consulted, including cultural stakeholders, scholars, and curators. Throughout the course of our research, we visited seventy-four national and international archives and collections of art, and we extend our gratitude to those who collaborated with us.

As curators, we intentionally selected the title 1898: U.S. Imperial Visions and Revisions, to signal how we are debating traditional histories of 1898 as a U.S. triumph. Our aim is to yield a critical analysis of this historical juncture, beginning with the traditional name of that year’s central conflict in U.S. historiography. The name with which the United States christened the central conflict of 1898—the Spanish-American War—points to the world hierarchy it established through its military intervention. When the United States intervened in the third and final Cuban War of Independence, Cuban involvement in the conflict was obliterated by a stroke of the pen, and the Cubans were robbed of the credit for their own anti-colonial struggle. To recognize all the arenas of war, the conflict might be referred to, awkwardly, be referred to as the Spanish-American-Cuban-Philippine-Puerto Rican War. Even this name is not quite right, for, although the United States captured Guam without military engagement, it would also deserve inclusion in the conflict’s name given the ongoing impact of the war on its political status. While there are different ways of perceiving this history and its outcome, the curators have strived for a comparative view that promotes inclusivity. In this spirit, we have made the decision to refer to these military events as the War of 1898. The date 1898 also signals the annexation of Hawai‘i that was the culmination of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom by white businessmen and landowners that occurred in 1893. Because the War of 1898 immediately preceded the Philippine-American War, we consider them together in this exhibition.

Taína Caragol, Curator of Painting and Sculpture and Latino Art and History
Kate Clarke Lemay, Historian
Carolina Maestre, Curatorial Assistant for Latino Art and History.