James Luna (Luiseno/Puyukitchum, Ipai, and Mexican American). End of the Frail. 1993. Tia Collection, Santa Fe, NM
James Luna (Luiseno/Puyukitchum, Ipai, and Mexican American). End of the Frail. 1993. Tia Collection, Santa Fe, NM
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Preoccupied: Indigenizing the Museum unfolds over 10 months, with nine solo artist and thematic exhibitions, interpretative interventions, and public programs

BALTIMORE, MD (April 8, 2024)—On April 21, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) launches the BMA’s Preoccupied: Indigenizing the Museum initiative with the opening of Dyani White Hawk: Bodies of Water, which features new and recent works from the artist’s ongoing Carry series. For works in this series, White Hawk (Sičáŋǧu Lakota) adorns large copper buckets and ladles with glass beads and long fringe that suggest arboreal root structures. These works upend the long-held boundaries between fine art and craft traditions in museum practice and center Native perspectives on the significance of both functionality and artistry in material culture. In this way, Bodies of Water is an apt and compelling beginning to a series of exhibitions and projects that significantly enhance the presence of Native voices, experiences, and works across the museum. Preoccupied includes nine solo and thematic exhibitions, interpretative interventions across the museum’s collection galleries, the development of a publication guided by Native methodologies, and a broad array of public programs through February 2025. Nearly 100 individuals contributed to or are represented across this expansive initiative, which transforms not only who tells stories in museums like the BMA, but also what stories get told and how.

Preoccupied: Indigenizing the Museum centers Native voices and elevates an often overlooked community within encyclopedic museums—particularly on the East Coast,” said project co-curator Dare Turner (Yurok Tribe). “This project is a first for Baltimore in that it challenges museums like the BMA to make space for new ways of thinking, learning, and being. It insists that Indigenous lifeways have existed as long as memory, and they continue today through the practices, awareness, and art of contemporary Native people.” Leila Grothe, co-curator and Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the BMA adds, “This project privileges the beauty and virtuosity of artworks made by artists whose names we no longer know up to some of the most acclaimed artists working today. Preoccupied celebrates Indigenous art and artists in all their vitality and establishes a framework for ongoing engagement and presentation at the BMA.”

In addition to White Hawk, artists featured in solo exhibitions in Preoccupied include Dana Claxton (Wood Mountain Lakota First Nations), Nicholas Galanin (Lingít and Unangax̂), Laura Ortman (White Mountain Apache), and Caroline Monnet (Anishinaabe/French). Monnet is a multidisciplinary artist from Outaouais, Quebec, whose work examines evolving cultural histories and blends traditional and modernist forms to create a singular visual language. Her presentation for Preoccupied comprises a large-scale work commissioned by the BMA for the initiative, titled River Flows Through Bent Trees. It takes inspiration from the eel trap pots made by Indigenous people of the Chesapeake Bay watershed as well as the architecture of traditional Anishinaabe residential dwellings. Weaving together the forms and materials of these essential Indigenous structures and objects with her own visual and conceptual interpretations, Monnet transforms the museum’s gallery space into a celebration of Indigenous lifeways, past and present.

Among the thematic presentations is Finding Home, which examines Indigenous people’s powerful relationships with land and the idea of sanctuary. While Native communities hold a broad range of beliefs and practices, many share a fundamental understanding that humans exist within a larger ecosystem that must stay in balance. Through works by such artists as Jeremy Frey (Passamaquoddy), Duane Linklater (Omaskêko Ininiwak from Moose Cree First Nation), Meryl McMaster (nêhiyaw from Red Pheasant Cree Nation, a member of the Siksika Nation, British and Dutch), Mark Tayac (Chief of the Piscataway Indian Nation), and Marie Watt (Seneca Nation and German-Scot ancestry), the exhibition explores the ways in which Indigenous artists maintain their community connections, lifeways, and sense of home in the face of generations of colonization and the pressures of contemporary life. The exhibition includes a new commission by Tayac and several works recently acquired by the BMA as part of its longstanding commitment to expanding its collection with the work of Native artists.

Preoccupied also includes a film series curated by Sky Hopinka (Ho-Chunk Nation and a descendant of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians) that will be presented continuously in the museum’s Black Box gallery. The series, Don’t wait for me, just tell me where you’re going, highlights five experimental films, including We Only Answer Our Landline (2019) by Olivia Camfield (Muscogee Creek Nation) and Woodrow Hunt (Cherokee, Klamath, and Modoc Tribes descendent) and all-around junior male (2012) and seeing her (2020) by Lindsay McIntyre (Inuk), among others. Of the series, Hopinka says, “Blood is a gift, and the land is a gift, and our past is a gift. In the questions they ask and in the wandering they do, the short films in this gallery uncover and explore generational memory. They give thanks to those who are gone, those who are yet to be born, and those who are here living right now.”

“For far too long, the voices of Native artists and leaders have been absent from Western institutions. Preoccupied is a critical step in the BMA’s ongoing work to rectify their absence and give prominence to their visionary work,” said Asma Naeem, the BMA’s Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director. “Preoccupied approaches this effort from a multitude of avenues, from special exhibitions to ongoing gallery interventions to the creation of public programs to further connect our community with the exceptional artists and thinkers featured in the initiative. This multiplicity of actions is necessary to make Native voices and experiences truly felt across the whole of the museum. We are thrilled to bring this initiative to fruition, to share it with our audiences, and to continue this essential work well into the future.”

Preoccupied was developed with guidance from the Native community and cultural leaders. The initiative began with critical listening sessions and dialogues with Native individuals in the Baltimore area and allies invested in the regional Indigenous community. A broader retreat in February 2023 further shaped the fundamental purposes and experimental approaches that underpin the initiative. At the BMA, the work is being led by Dare Turner (Yurok Tribe), Curator of Indigenous Art at the Brooklyn Museum and former BMA Assistant Curator of Indigenous Art of the Americas; Leila Grothe, BMA Associate Curator of Contemporary Art; and Elise Boulanger (Citizen of the Osage Nation), BMA Curatorial Research Assistant, in consultation with a 10-member Community Advisory Panel that includes artists, scholars, designers, and community leaders. Together, the many people engaged in this process have ensured a diverse and robust exploration of both historical and contemporary Native artmaking and perspectives.

Preoccupied Solo and Thematic Exhibitions (organized by opening date)

Dyani White Hawk: Bodies of Water (April 21 – December 1, 2024)
Finding Home (May 12 – December 1, 2024)
Enduring Buffalo (May 12 – December 1, 2024)
Illustrating Agency (May 12 – December 1, 2024)
Don’t wait for me, just tell me where you’re going (May 12 – December 1, 2024)
Caroline Monnet: River Flows Through Bent Trees (May 12 – December 1, 2024)
Nicholas Galanin: Exist in the Width of a Knife’s Edge (July 14, 2024 – February 16, 2025)
Laura Ortman: Wood that Sings (July 17, 2024 – January 5, 2025)
Dana Claxton * (August 4, 2024–January 5, 2025) *denotes working title

Collection Gallery Interventions

Preoccupied will also include interventions such as audio guides voiced by Natives in the region responding to works in the BMA collection, and in the labeling and display of certain objects across the museum that depict Native subjects and espouse colonialist perspectives. These interventions shift the interpretative voice for these works from white artists, curators, and/or observers of Native culture to Native leaders, artists, and experiences. This important shift brings greater accuracy, encourages deeper understanding of these objects, and highlights the importance of incorporating Native community voices within the museum context. Some of the interventions are led by members of the 10-member Community Advisory Panel for Preoccupied, including Allison Kelliher (Koyukon Athabascan, Dena) and Bayley Marquez (Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians).

Among the works receiving new interpretative labels are photographs by Alma R. Lavenson (American, 1897-1989), including Wash Day, Taos, New Mexico, 1941 and San Ildefonso Indians, 1941, printed 1986; and the paintings Indians Hunting Elk on the Platte, 1865, by Alfred Jacob Miller (American, 1810-1874) and Luzanna [Lousuanna Lujan] and Her Sisters, 1920, by Walter Ufer (American, 1876-1936). New audio guide entries are being created for the paintings Bull Durham, 1921, by Stuart Davis (American, 1892-1964); Hiawatha and the Great Serpent, the Kenabeek, 1867, by Thomas Moran (American, born England, 1837 – 1926); and A Tulip, a Carnation and Roses, with Shells and Insects, on a Ledge, c. 1630s, by Balthasar van der Ast (Dutch, born Middelburg, Zeeland, 1593/94 – died 1657, Delft), among other works. The collection gallery interventions will remain as interpretative material beyond the duration of Preoccupied.


Preoccupied will also include the creation of a publication that embodies Native approaches to knowledge sharing, which will be apparent in its physical form and contents. The publication is designed by Sébastien Aubin (Opaskwayak Cree Nation) and takes its point of departure from the concept of controlled burns and small fires as a means of encouraging growth and new life. The publication will feature scholarly essays by heather ahtone (Choctaw, Chickasaw Nation), Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche), and John Lukavic; a newly commissioned poem by Heid E. Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe); a newly commissioned comic conceived, written, and illustrated by Weyodi Old Bear (Comanche), Dale Deforest (Diné), and Lee Francis IV (Laguna Pueblo); and critical perspectives from contemporary artists. Embracing Indigenous methodologies, the content will be further visually amplified through rich illustrations and photography, and experimental type, layout, and design.


This project is generously supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Additional support provided by The Eileen Harris Norton Foundation, the Robert Lehman Foundation, and ArtTable.

About the Baltimore Museum of Art

Founded in 1914, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) inspires people of all ages and backgrounds through exhibitions, programs, and collections that tell an expansive story of art—challenging long-held narratives and embracing new voices. Our outstanding collection of more than 97,000 objects spans many eras and cultures and includes the world’s largest public holding of works by Henri Matisse; one of the nation’s finest collections of prints, drawings, and photographs; and a rapidly growing number of works by contemporary artists of diverse backgrounds. The museum is also distinguished by a neoclassical building designed by American architect John Russell Pope and two beautifully landscaped gardens featuring an array of modern and contemporary sculpture. The BMA is located three miles north of the Inner Harbor, adjacent to the main campus of Johns Hopkins University, and has a community branch at Lexington Market. General admission is free so that everyone can enjoy the power of art.

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