Some movie scenes stick with viewers for years, even decades, after they first encounter them. The 1959 epic “Ben-Hur” made that indelible impression on a young Jefferson Pinder with its depiction of exhausted galley slaves furiously rowing a ship as they’re beaten with whips.

The scene also stuck with Pinder, who later studied theater and mixed media at the University of Maryland, College Park, for what it didn’t show.

“I think, of course, there was one Black person in that scene,” Pinder said recently from his Chicago home. “We look for ourselves, and I said, ‘No, if there’s slaves, why is it we are portraying slavery of white Europeans when really it would be people of the world?’”

Now, Pinder’s own “Ben-Hur” — a time-based endurance piece centered on six Black men working to the point of exhaustion on rowing machines — is making history locally as the Baltimore Museum of Art’s first acquired work of performance art. It’s also part of more than 100 new pieces of artwork recently acquired by the BMA, the latest development in director Asma Naeem’s mission to expand and diversify the museum’s offerings beyond traditional and familiar fine art.

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“To represent people from diverse backgrounds, you have to consider the arts that they focused on in their cultures and communities, and much of that is not sculpture made out of bronze or marble or a painting,” said Naeem, who was named BMA director just over a year ago after serving as its chief curator since 2018.

Naeem, a close follower of Pinder’s career for more than a decade, described the scene from the Hollywood “Ben-Hur” as “a whitewashing of enslaved people’s history.” Pinder’s reinterpretation, therefore, serves as a modern corrective.

“It’s a way for us to both educate and also spread a vision of an artist who is using his imagination to tell that story in a very contemporary way,” she said.

The 53-year-old Pinder, who often returns to the area to visit his mother in Columbia, has staged “Ben-Hur” only twice, both times in Washington, D.C. While the BMA premiere won’t happen this year, Pinder said he hopes to stage the performance “as soon as possible.”

He’s already thinking about how this iteration will look and feel different from prior performances. Pinder said he enjoys confronting an audience with men pushing themselves on these exercise devices. He wants viewers to breathe in that “particular kind of smell and funk” that comes with humans physically and mentally pushing themselves until they can’t any longer. It creates an environment that questions what it means to even be a viewer, he said.

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“We think of museum spectatorship as something passive,” said Pinder, a 2021 Smithsonian artist research fellow and current Art Institute of Chicago sculpture professor. “But in some way, if you’re passive while they [the rowers] are active, you’re implicated.”

For those unfamiliar or intimidated by performance art — a wide-ranging, hard-to-classify form that can include, but is not limited to, a live performance of various disciplines, from acting and dance to poetry and music — Pinder said his work aims to invite others into a dialogue, not exclude them.

“With so much performance art, it challenges the spectators to the point of frustration — and that’s not a bad thing, it’s just not necessarily what I want to do,” he said. “I want to create a conversation, and I want people to be wrestling with that. And every time they turn on that scene from ‘Ben-Hur,’ they’re going to be thinking about my ‘Ben-Hur,’ too.”

While there’s some time to wait before we see “Ben-Hur” in Baltimore, some of the BMA’s recent acquisitions are already on display, including “Reconfiguring Flag,” the 2021 work by Martha Jackson Jarvis, the Prince George’s County-based artist whom Naeem called “a living legend.” Inspired by Jarvis’ great-great-great-great grandfather, a free Black militiaman who fought in the Revolutionary War, the strikingly textured piece is part of the “Martha Jackson Jarvis: What the Trees Have Seen” exhibition, which is on display now through March 24.

“Reconfiguring Flag” is a 2021 piece by Martha Jackson Jarvis, a Prince George’s County-based artist. (Courtesy of Martha Jackson Jarvis)

Another highlight, set to debut on April 21, is “Preoccupied: Indigenizing the Museum,” a series of exhibitions that will spotlight works by Native artists, including Meryl McMaster and Maryland artist Mark Tayac, a 29th-generation hereditary chief of the Piscataway Indian Nation whom the BMA commissioned to create “Traditional Beaver Pouch Bag,” a work handmade from beaver hide and deerskin that drew inspiration from Maryland’s history of tobacco production.

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Naeem said placing an emphasis on Native art and artists is long overdue, both at the BMA and in the art world at large.

“I think of it as a paradigm shift of handing over a key role that museums play in society away from those who have typically had that privilege and power to those who are making and creating new ways of knowing and artmaking,” she said.

These latest additions to the BMA — home to famous works by Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and numerous other masters — reflect Naeem’s goals to recognize artists and disciplines from around the world, particularly those that have been largely ignored or glossed over by the more rigid corners of the art world.

Naeem, who grew up in Baltimore and is the first person of color to lead the BMA, said expanding the ideas of what art actually is, and who gets to make it, is at the heart of her role.

“I believe art is everywhere and I believe we need to demystify art,” she said. “This is not just a museum of priceless and extraordinarily beautiful art objects. This is a home for all of us who are seeking solace, who are seeking comfort, who are seeking knowledge.”