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Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) Launches Preoccupied Initiative in April—Greatly Enhancing Native Voices and Works Across the Museum

BALTIMORE, MD – 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 (Sicángu 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.

Six of the nine Preoccupied exhibitions open in April and May: Dyani White Hawk: Bodies of Water (April 21–December 1, 2024); Finding Home; Enduring Buffalo; and Illustrating Agency thematic exhibitions; Don’t wait for me, just tell me where you’re going film series curated by Sky Hopinka (Ho-Chunk Nation and a descendant of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians); and Caroline Monnet: River Flows Through Bent Trees, a new commission. (all May 12–December 1, 2024). They are followed by 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) *working title

The Preoccupied initiative also includes 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 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.

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

More information:

James Luna (Luiseno/Puyukitchum, Ipai, and Mexican American). End of the Frail. 1993. Tia Collection, Santa Fe, NM