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Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) to Launch Expansive Initiative Centering the Voices and Work of Native Artists and Leaders in April 2024

BALTIMORE, MD – In April 2024, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) will launch Preoccupied: Indigenizing the Museum, a series of exhibitions and projects that centers the work, experiences, and voices of Native artists. Preoccupied explores the vital cultural contributions of Native people through the presentation of historical objects as well as works created by a breadth of contemporary makers, including Julie Buffalohead (Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma), T.C. Cannon (Kiowa/Caddo), Dana Claxton (Hunkpapa Lakota), Nicholas Galanin (Tlingit and Unangaxˆ), Duane Linklater (Omaskêko Ininiwak from Moose Cree First Nation), Laura Ortman (White Mountain Apache), Caroline Monnet (Anishinaabe/French), Wendy Red Star (Apsáaalooke (Crow)), Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation), Marie Watt (Seneca Nation of Indians and German-Scot ancestry), and Dyani White Hawk (Sičáŋǧu Lakota), among others. Unfolding over the course of ten months, the initiative features focus solo presentations, thematic explorations, and a film series curated by Sky Hopinka (Ho-Chunk Nation and a descendant of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians). Preoccupied will also include interventions in the display and labeling of certain objects across the museum that depict Native subjects and espouse colonialist perspectives. Together, these projects and forthcoming public programs will significantly increase the presence of Native artists in the BMA’s galleries and actively subvert the colonialist tendencies and hierarchies upon which museums have been built. The initiative will continue through January 2025.

Preoccupied is being developed with guidance from the Native community and cultural leaders in and around Baltimore. The initiative began with critical listening sessions and dialogues with Baltimore-area Native individuals. 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 Darienne (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, with guest curation from Sky Hopinka (Ho-Chunk Nation and a descendant of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño) and in consultation with an 11-member Native Community Advisory Panel that includes artists, scholars, designers, and community representatives. In addition to their significant efforts in the development of Preoccupied, many of the individuals involved in this community-oriented and iterative process will lend their voices to the audio guides, wall labels, and other didactic materials.

“From its inception, Preoccupied: Indigenizing the Museum has aimed to center Native voices and make visible an often overlooked community within encyclopedic museums,” said project co-curator Dare Turner. “This project challenges museums like the BMA to fight against shared colonialist tendencies and make space for new ways of thinking, learning, and being. It insists that Native lifeways have existed as long as memory, and they continue today through the practices, awareness, and art of contemporary Native people. Preoccupied celebrates Native art and artists in all their vitality and establishes a framework for ongoing engagement and presentation within the museum.”

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 being 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. 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 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 Native methodologies, the content will be further visually amplified through rich illustrations and photography, experimental type and layout, and unconventional printing techniques.

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Image: Julie Buffalohead (Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma). The Noble Savage. 2022. Courtesy of Jessica Silverman and Sarah Thornton, San Francisco, CA. Photo by Rik Sferra.