This resource is a Tour Guide Study Set focusing on the artist Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, with special emphasis on his artworks collected by the Walker Art Center.
"Tour Guide Study Sets" are Art Collector Sets created by tour guides to share knowledge around a particular artist, artwork, art movement, or theme. Study Sets are not typically written for plug-and-play classroom use, but rather are intended for peer-to-peer sharing among guides. Study Sets are in-depth learning tools that contain researched information and, additionally, point to a number of outside resources.
Though the primary audience for Tour Guide Study Sets is volunteer tour guides, Study Sets may also be useful to educators, artists, or a general audience desiring more information about the artwork, artist, or exhibition.
Feel free to customize this Set for you or your audience. As a registered user of ArtsConnectEd, first duplicate this Set to make a copy in your account, and then edit its contents using Art Collector.
USING THE TERM "AMERICAN INDIAN": The author acknowledges that terminology is controversial. While notions of identity are personal and terminology is fluid, the author of this Set looked to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian (nmai.si.edu) as a model for language choices. All efforts were made to use terminology respectfully and accurately. The author invites readers to share their thoughts and suggestions by using ArtsConnectEd's Comment feature.
THE ARTIST'S NAME: The artist's full name is Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds. Hock E Aye Vi has previously been spelled "Hachivi". This former spelling persists in places, for example in ArtsConnectEd and the titles of Heap of Birds' artworks.
AUDIENCE FOR THIS ARTWORK: The notes and resources compiled in this Set will prepare guides to share Telling Many Magpies... with adult visitors and students grade 5 and older. The artwork's political, social, and emotional content might be challenging for guides to deliver to younger audiences. Since the work is text-based, basic reading skills are requisite. More sophisticated literacy skills are likely to enhance a viewer's insight into Heap of Birds' work. For guides, this artwork is a prime opportunity to encourage critical reading and discuss how art can be used to investigate the nature of language. More than a value-neutral tool, languages are complex signifiers of power, meaning-making, and culture.
Located in the first gallery of The Living Years exhibition at the Walker Art Center, one encounters this artwork by Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds. Reading the artist's clearly printed words, one is immediately struck by the arresting message:
WE DON'T WANT INDIANS
JUST THEIR NAMES
As the viewer progresses from surface comprehension to deeper reading of the text, uncomfortable feelings are likely to surface. Addressing these feelings is key to experiencing the artwork. Guides who incorporate this artwork in a tour should prepare to discuss sensitive issues surrounding colonialism, racism, cultural intolerance, and political conflict through history to the present day, especially as seen from American Indian perspectives.
This artwork can be examined from several angles—political, social, emotional. Given the strong emotional impact of this work, I recommend the guide begin by acknowledging and reflecting on feelings as they unfold in the presence of the artwork. As the conversation takes its course, background information about the artist and his work can be woven into the dialogue.
While keeping the exchange open-ended and organic, a tour guide might encourage visitors to look closely and verbalize their reactions using discussion questions such as these:
What emotions does this message make you feel? Maybe it's a mix of emotions that might include. . . Guilt? Blame? Helplessness? Empathy? Frustration? Injustice? Anger? Remorse? Grief? What particular words or phrases used in the artwork elicit a strong emotional reaction?
What do you notice about the artist's word choices?
Who is "WE" in this message? Does "we" include the artist? Does "we" include the reader?
Why does the artist use the word "Indians" instead of "Native Americans" or "indigenous peoples of the Americas"? Who gets to decide what name is given to a group of people or a culture?
Tour Guide Suggestion: Further reading about the name controversy is provided later in this Set. A helpful rule of thumb is, "[w]henever possible, Native people prefer to be called by their specific tribal name." (Source: The National Museum of the American Indian, 2007, link to page)
(Discussion questions continue on the next slide.)
(Discussion questions, continued)
The text in the artwork unflinchingly states that while "we don't want Indians," we want the names, mascots, etc. that come from American Indian cultures. Often, one language will borrow words from another. What does it look like when speakers of one language take words from another?
Do you know any English words that are borrowed from American Indians?
Tour guide suggestion: In advance, prepare a list of words that refer to American Indian languages and cultures. Include examples of mascots, machines, cities, products, etc.. A list such as this is attached to this Set. Making your own list will strengthen your tour preparation. Here are resources for your search:
An excellent resource for tour guides, this artist talk by Edgar Heap of Birds provides an overview of his work and his interactions with indiginous cultures. While the video is almost 27 minutes in length, the timeline below suggests highlights and particularly salient moments.
1:27—Heap of Birds frames his talk with a fascinating observation: The same agenda that motivates provocative political art of today can also be seen traditional, indigenous art. Throughout time, art has the power to communicate our essential ideas about the preservation of life and reverence for what sustains us.
4:34—Heap of Birds describes his Telling Many Magpies broadside and in his own words, unpacks some of its meanings.
7:04—The artist tells of his great great great grandfather Chief Many Magpies, who was imprisoned at Fort Marion in Florida. Captain Pratt, Chief Many Magpies' imprisoner, mistranslated and recorded the Chief's name as "Heap o' Birds".
8:00—The artist pronounces "Hock E Aye Vi," and we learn that it means "little chief" in the Cheyenne language.
8:45—The artist explains that though his art education and practice is international, his homeland in Oklahoma has great importance to him. In addition to making political art, he also makes more lyrical paintings in response to experiencing that specific land. (For more information about Heap of Bird's Neuf Series acrylic paintings, see http://youtu.be/xXs9_pW5hQk)
15:04—Heap of Birds makes an interesting statement about his interactions with indigenous people all over the globe. When visiting other lands, he approaches that geography, culture, and history "from the back to the front." His real passion is digging down through layers of colonial residue to expose what came before. He values first-hand, direct contact with indigenous peoples, traditions, and places.
25:50—The artist recites his grandmother's oratory, "Nah - Kev - Ho - Eyea - Zim," which could be roughly interpreted to mean "We're always going to turn around and come home again." This statement resonates through his entire oevre, in all the diverse forms and styles it takes.
Left: Photo of Heap of Birds by Americans4Arts via Flickr
Artist biography as published by Pomona College Museum of Art for the presentation of Nuance of Sky (2013):
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.
Artist biography as published by the National Museum of the American Indian's exhibition materials for Continuum 12 Artists (2004):
Heap of Birds (Tsistsistas[Cheyenne]) works in multiple media including painting, drawing, printmaking, and mixed media installations. He is best known for his work with language and text messages in public settings using formats such as billboards, traffic panels, and electronic signs to make incisive social and political commentary. Heap of Birds was educated at London’s Royal College of Art, the University of Kansas, and Temple University. He currently teaches at the University of Oklahoma.
Left: Photo of Heap of Birds by Ted Sherarts via Flickr
Artist's curriculum vitae, as published online by the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota, within a section of the website focusing on artistic responses to the Holocaust and genocide.
The artworks of Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds include multi-disciplinary forms of public art messages, large scale drawings, Neuf Series acrylic paintings, prints and monumental porcelain enamel on steel outdoor sculpture.
Heap of Birds received his Master of Fine Arts from Tyler School of Art, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1979), his Bachelor of Fine Arts from The University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas (1976) and has undertaken graduate studies at The Royal College of Art, London, England.
The artist has exhibited his works at The Museum of Modern Art; Whitney Museum of American Art; National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, New York, New York; The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia; Documenta, Kassal, Germany; Orchard Gallery, Derry, Northern Ireland; University Art Museum, Berkeley, California; Association for Visual Arts Museum, Cape Town, South Africa; Lewallen Contemporary Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico; Hong Kong Art Center, China; and Bandung Institute of Technology, Bandung, Indonesia.
He has served as visiting lecturer in London, England; Western Samoa; Chiang Mai and Bangkok, Thailand; Johannesburg, South Africa; Barcelona, Spain; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Norrkoping, Sweden; Hararre, Zimbabwe; and Adelaide, Australia.
Heap of Birds has taught as Visiting Professor at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island; and Michaelis School of Art, University of Cape Town, South Africa. At the University of Oklahoma, Professor Heap of Birds teaches in Native American Studies and Fine Arts. His seminars explore issues of the contemporary artist on local, national and international bases.
He has received grants and awards from The National Endowment for the Arts, Rockefeller Foundation, Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, Lila Wallace Foundation, Bonfil Stanton Foundation, and The Pew Charitable Trust.
In June 2005, Heap of Birds completed the fifty-foot signature, outdoor sculpture titled Wheel. The circular porcelain enamel on steel work was commissioned by The Denver Art Museum and is inspired by the traditional Medicine Wheel of the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming.
Heap of Birds’ artwork was chosen by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian as their entry towards the competition for the United States Pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale. He will represent NMAI with a major collateral public art project in Venice, June 2007.
EXHIBITIONS: Hachivi Edgar Heap of Birds: Claim Your Color (exhibited at the Walker Art Center in 1990), a traveling survey organized by Exit Art, New York, more information available on Exit Art's archives pages (scroll about 2/3 down the page to find Claim Your Color)
ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE: 1990, in conjunction with Claim Your Color, Heap of Birds' three-month residency at the Walker Art Center resulted in the installation of Building Minnesota
COMMISSIONS: Building Minnesota (1990, on view spring through September), a public piece commissioned by the Walker in conjunction with their presentation of Claim Your Color (See the next two slides for images and Walker commentary about the art. Attached to this Set is a xeroxed copy of the brochure about Building Minnesota, original available for study in the Walker Art Center Library.)
WALKER HOLDINGS: 3 sculptures (from the Building Minnesota series), 1 edition print (Telling Many Magpies, Telling Black Wolf, Telling Hachivi)
The above summary was adapted from the artist's entry (page 263) in Bits & Pieces Put Together To Present a Semblance of a Whole, the catalogue of Walker Collections edited by Joan Rothfuss and Betsy Carpenter. (D.A.P., New York, 2005.)
As the land along the Parkway is owned by the Minneapolis Park Board, this commission demanded close cooperation between the City Council and the Walker. The Park Board donated the signs and the labor, and the Walker arranged for young adults to help the artist place the signs. In the commissioning contract, the artist retained the copyright to the commission and ownership of one complete set of signs (two sets were made in case of theft, vandalism, or loss) and the Walker reserved three signs for its permanent collection. While CLAIM YOUR COLOR came down in early May 1990, the Minneapolis Park Board agreed to keep BUILDING MINNESOTA on site through the first week of September.
|More Info||More Info|
In 1990, the Walker Art Center invited Hachivi Edgar Heap of Birds to create a commissioned work in Minneapolis. The 40 aluminum signs seen here formed the core element of that commission. Originally installed along the West River Parkway near downtown Minneapolis (see photos), the signs were planted in the earth to form a sweeping arc along the Mississippi River. Challenging established perceptions about Native American history and culture, Oklahoma artist Heap of Birds brings the weight of history to traditional road signage to address this still controversial moment in Minnesota history.
|More Info||More Info|
Familiar friend and veteran Walker tour guide Sharon Zweigbaum recollects giving a tour of Building Minnesota.
Filmed on the Stone Arch Bridge, this video by Randy C. Bunney offers a view of Minneapolis from the Mississipi River. Building Minnesota is a site-specific work so this riverfront industrial landscape is key to understanding the work.
This passage from Heap of Birds' artist statement elloquently expresses the river's importance:
"As the forty signs are offered along the water called the Mississippi, which remains a highway for American business, we seek not ony to extract profit from our surroundings. We also wish to honor the life-giving force of the waters that have truly preserved all of us from the beginning, and to offer respect to the tortured spirits of 1862 and 1865 that may have sought refuge and renewal through the original purity that is water."—Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, 1990
Video: Randy C. Bunney via Flickr
|More Info||More Info|
|More Info||More Info|
|More Info||More Info|
ABOUT AMERICAN INDIANS
ABOUT CULTURAL MISAPPROPRIATION
ABOUT HEAP OF BIRDS