Nuance of Sky: Edgar Heap of Birds Invites Spirit Objects to Join His Art Practice
“Nuance of Sky” unites the work of Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds with historic Native American art works from the collection of the Pomona College Museum of Art. The exhibition, curated by Heap of Birds, places paintings, mono-prints, and sculptures by Heap of Birds in dialogue with objects from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Plains beadwork, Navajo turquoise, and Pomo feather basketry, selected by Heap of Birds. “Nuance of Sky” is a meditation on the spiritual significance of blue and the persistence of native spiritual and artistic practices:
Blue, flowing at our feet and flying above our heads, brings a positive, all-encompassing life-giving presence in Nuance of Sky. … It is the blue continuum that we seek to participate within and maintain. Much like the passage of azure color overhead and upstream, art and artists make offerings via this exhibition. Let us honor natural elements duly recognized along with the many individual hearts that speak together visually.
HOCK E AYE VI EDGAR HEAP OF BIRDS (Cheyenne/Arapaho) is an artist, writer, educator, curator, and tribal leader. Recognized for some of the earliest, and most powerful, conceptual Native American art, Heap of Birds pursues a multi-disciplinary practice combining the textual and the visual in installations, paintings, prints, drawings, and monumental sculpture.
Heap of Birds, born in Wichita, Kansas, earned a BFA from the University of Kansas. He continued his studies at the Royal College of Art (London) and received his MFA from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. At the University of Oklahoma since 1988, Professor Heap of Birds teaches in Native American Studies. His seminars explore issues of the contemporary artist on local, national and international levels. Heap of Birds is a Headsman in the Elk Warrior Society, a traditional tribal group dedicated to the preservation of the Cheyenne People. He currently lives and maintains a studio in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
About the Native Host Sign Panels (An excerpt from "Public Memory as Communal Experience" by Shanna Ketchum-Heap of Birds)
As part of his art practice, Heap of Birds often enters a new space by acknowledging that he is a guest on lands with Native hosts. Invited by Pitzer College to inaugurate art+environment, a four-year public art initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation, Heap of Birds proposed an intervention to deploy Native Host sign panels honoring twelve historic Gabrielino-Tongva1 tribal villages, including the names of four sacred mountains and four sacred rivers, all of which are located within the territory of the Los Angeles basin. In total, twenty sign panels will be fabricated and installed across Pitzer College and the other Claremont College campuses; one panel will stand in front of the Pomona College Museum of Art. Each sign will have similar texts that read as follows: CALIFORNIA (typed backwards) / TODAY YOUR HOST IS / TOROJOATNGNA. The Tongvan name Torojoatngna refers to a historic village where the town of Claremont is now located. Tongva elder and educator Julia Bogany hopes the public sign panels will not only raise awareness about the contemporary existence of tribes in Claremont but also deepen knowledge about California tribal history in general.2
The invisibility of the Gabrielino-Tongva people to the non-native public is a continuing challenge facing the descendents of one of Los Angeles’s indigenous populations. Even after several generations of Euro-American colonialism, the Tongva continue the struggles and efforts of so many American Indian nations and communities. For Heap of Birds, addressing these historical issues within his art practice presented an opportunity to bring water issues—including water rights and the protection of sacred springs—and Tongva self-recognition as a tribal entity to the fore. Above all, it was a chance for Heap of Birds to “expose the reality of being a Native person in America, [namely,] the genocide and process of colonialism that damaged Indian nations and erased many of them.”3
1Historically, the tribe has also been known as the Gabrielinos but most tribal members have resumed use of their original name Tongva, meaning “People of the Earth.”
2Julia Bogany, interview with author, 18 October 2012.
3Edgar Heap of Birds, interview with author, 18 October 2012.
For more information about the "Native Hosts" installation, visit "Pitzer College's art+environment Program Unveils Edgar Heap of Birds Artwork" and download the map of the installation.
Watch Edgar Heap of Birds talk about the "Native Hosts" installation.