Nelson-Atkins Museum Appoints Tahnee Ahtone as Curator of Native American Art

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, announced yesterday, April 9, that it has appointed Tahnee Ahtone (Ahtoneharjo-Growingthunder) as curator of Native American Art with support from the Mellon-Wingate Leadership in Art Museums Initiative.

Ahtone, who is an enrolled citizen of the Kiowa Tribe and a descendant of the Seminole and Mvskoke Nations, has over 20 years of museum experience and was a member of Hyperallergic’s 2021–22 Emily Hall Tremaine Journalism Fellowship for Curators cohort.

“I started on February 19, 2024, by developing a tribal relations roster and working on projects centered around the new [Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act] regulations. We are eager and looking forward to the possibilities of engaging the local community and tribal nations at large in the gallery’s future rotation,” Ahtone told Hyperallergic in an email.

As a Hyperallergic fellow, Ahtone penned three articles about her curatorial practice and the cultural and historical importance of a series of Kiowa Tribe murals created in the late 1980s. The murals were presented to the public for the first time in an email exhibition illuminating the large-scale works of late Kiowa artists Parker Boyiddle Jr., Mirac Creepingbear, and Sherman Chaddlesone, throughout which Ahtone contextualized their depictions of Kiowa oral histories of creation, spirituality, and contemporary expression.

During her virtual fellowship event, Ahtone emphasized the importance of Native sovereignty and stressed that institutions must include tribal governments when working with cultural and artistic materials related to their communities. The Nelson-Atkins Museum was criticized in 2015 for its organization of the exhibition Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky at the Metropolitan Museum of Art after Aaniiih Nation curator Joe Horse Capture wrote in Indian Country Today that the show had no Native partners involved, only Native consultants. The museum also faced criticism in 2020 after its security team allowed police to station on its premises during a nearby Black Lives Matter protest.

Previously, Ahtone has served as the director and curator of the Kiowa Tribal Museum in Carnegie, Oklahoma; a Tribal Nations liaison and curator at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City; and a curator at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in Mashantucket, Connecticut.

Ahtone also co-curated the exhibition Lighting Pathways: Matriarchs of Oklahoma Native Art, on view through April 28 at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

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