April 21, 2024–February 16, 2025

The artwork, perspectives, and histories of Native artists, scholars, and community members are at the center of Preoccupied: Indigenizing the Museum, a major BMA initiative. The wide-reaching project seeks to begin addressing the historical erasure of Indigenous culture by arts institutions while creating new practices for museums.

The expansive Preoccupied project extends into the galleries and beyond with public programs, nine exhibitions, staff training, and new interpretive texts for artworks throughout the Museum. The curatorial team worked closely with Native artists, curators, and Baltimore-region residents on a community advisory panel to frame the questions this project would ask. In the earliest stages of the initiative, all Preoccupied project participants were invited to an “unconference,” a weekend-long retreat with the exhibitions’ curators, where they discussed Native visibility in the face of colonial oppression.

Preoccupied radically centers Native perspectives in a space that has often overlooked or erased that community: encyclopedic museums,” shares the project’s co-curator Dare Turner (Yurok Tribe), Curator of Indigenous Art at the Brooklyn Museum. “It challenges all museums to interrogate their colonial roots and make space for new ways of thinking, learning, and being.”

Preoccupied emphasizes that Native people have created meaningful art since time immemorial and that Native communities thrive to this day. Beyond its large-scale exhibition program, the BMA’s celebration of Native art and artists offers a framework that the Museum can carry forward for future exhibitions and community engagement.

A catalog published by the BMA and distributed by the University of Washington Press will be available in May 2024. Fifty vivid, detailed images of works from the exhibitions share pages with personal reflections, a comic featuring fictional Indigenous hero Pueblo Jones, insights from Native artists whose works are featured in the book, newly commissioned poetry, and scholarly and curatorial considerations.

Preoccupied Exhibitions

Dyani White Hawk: Bodies of Water

April 21, 2024—December 1, 2024

Caroline Monnet: River Flows Through Bent Trees

May 12, 2024—December 1, 2024

Don’t wait for me, just tell me where you’re going

May 12, 2024—December 1, 2024

Enduring Buffalo

May 12, 2024—December 1, 2024

Finding Home

May 12, 2024—December 1, 2024

Illustrating Agency

May 12, 2024—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—December 8, 2024

Dana Claxton

August 4, 2024—January 5, 2025


Preoccupied Community Day
Sunday, September 22


Art After Hours: Preoccupied
Friday, October 18


Sky Hopkina Film Screening and Talk
Sunday, October 27

Preoccupied across the Museum

Collection Galleries

Preoccupied extends into the collection galleries with a new audio guide voiced by Natives in the region and new labels and displays for objects across the museum that depict Native subjects and espouse colonialist perspectives. These efforts shift the interpretative voice for these works from white artists, curators, and/or observers of Native culture to Native leaders, artists, and experiences. This 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). The collection gallery interventions will remain beyond the duration of Preoccupied.

Updated Labels

Visitors can read new insights from Native leaders and artists on artworks across the Museum. 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.

New Audio Guide

The Preoccupied audio guide features stories and insight from eight Native community members on their personal connections to 14 artworks in the BMA collection. Contributors include Mark Tayac (Chief of the Piscataway Indian Nation), Ashley Minner Jones (Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina), Mario Harley (Piscataway Conoy Tribe), Allison Kelliher (Koyukon Athabascan, Dena), Elizabeth Rule (enrolled citizen of the Chickasaw Nation), Bayley Marquez (Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians), Elise Boulanger (citizen of the Osage Nation), and Dare Turner (Yurok Tribe).

Listen to the audio guide

Preoccupied Catalog

The Preoccupied initiative includes a publication that centers Native artist voices and challenges collective understandings of Native peoples’ pivotal role in North American history. Designed by Sébastien Aubin (Opaskwayak Cree Nation), the written and visual contributions address and refute the oppressive and pervasive hierarchies of colonialism upon which museums are based. The publication features 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. The work offers an important contribution to current global conversations around the decolonization of museums.

Purchase the 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 Ford Foundation, the Terra Foundation for American Art, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Eileen Harris Norton Foundation, the Estate of Carolyn Lee Smith, The Dorman/Mazaroff Art Exhibition Fund, the Hardiman Family Endowment Fund, the Sigmund M. and Mary B. Hyman Fund for American Art, The Clair Zamoiski Segal and Thomas H. Segal Contemporary Art Endowment Fund, and the Robert Lehman Foundation.