Julie Buffalohead (Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma). “The Noble Savage.” 2022. Courtesy Jessica Silverman and Sarah Thornton, San Francisco

Illustrating Agency


This installation highlights the ways in which Native artists have increasingly asserted agency—the exertion of one’s own power—over representations of their communities and identities over time. In the early 20th century, white arts educators encouraged Native artists to create “authentic” art—as defined by settlers—that embraced traditional subject matter while often neglecting present realities. In the decades that followed, generations of artists have shrugged off settler expectations by depicting their community on their own terms. Such work illustrates the modern Native experience, problematizes harmful stereotypes, and pointedly challenges outsider understandings of Indigenous identity.

Featured artists whose names are known to us include:

  • Stephen Mopope (Wood Coy, Painted Robe) (Kiowa, b. 1898, OK; d. 1974, Fort Cobb, OK)
  • Allan Houser (Chiricahua Apache, b. 1914, Apache, OK; d. 1994, Santa Fe, NM)
  • Vicente Mirabal (Chiu-Tah) (Taos Pueblo, b. 1918, Taos Pueblo, NM; d. circa 1944, Germany)
  • Joe A. Quintana (Cochiti, active 20th century)
  • Horace Poolaw (Kiowa) b. 1906, Mountain View, OK; d. 1984, Anadarko, OK)
  • Harrison Begay (Diné, b. 1917, White Cone, AZ; d. 2012, Gilbert, AZ)
  • Fritz Scholder (La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians, b. 1937, Breckenridge, MN; d. 2005, Scottsdale, AZ)
  • Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, b. 1935, Syracuse, NY)
  • T.C. Cannon (Kiowa/Caddo, b. 1946, Lawton, OK; d. 1978, Santa Fe, NM)
  • James Luna (Luiseño/Puyukitchum, Ipai, and Mexican-American, b. 1950, Orange, CA; d. 2018, New Orleans, LA)
  • Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation, b. 1940, Saint Ignatius, MT)
  • Kevin Pourier (Oglala Lakota, b. 1958, Rapid City, SD)
  • Wendy Red Star (Apsáalooke (Crow), b. 1981, Billings, MT)
  • Alan Michelson (Six Nations of the Grand River, b. 1953, Buffalo, NY)
  • Julie Buffalohead (Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma, b. 1972, Minneapolis, MN)
  • Rose B. Simpson (Santa Clara Pueblo, b. 1983, Santa Clara Pueblo, NM)

Preoccupied: Indigenizing the Museum is a wide-reaching project that proposes Indigenizing interventions to address and refuse the oppressive hierarchies of coloniality that pervade the realm of culture and serve as the underpinning of museums. The project encompasses community engagement, a series of nine monographic and thematic exhibitions, institutional interventions, public programs, and an untraditional catalog.


Curated by Leila Grothe, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art and Dare Turner (Yurok Tribe), Curator of Indigenous Art at the Brooklyn Museum, with support from Curatorial Research Assistant Elise Boulanger (Citizen of the O​sage Nation).

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 and The Robert Lehman Foundation.