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Issue # 3

Issue # 3

Article Listing

Remembering in America: Toward a Critical Dialogue
by Shanna Ketchum

Lita Fontaine - Sacred Feminine
by Amy Karlinsky

The Last Time I Saw Venice - Rebecca Belmore's Fountain
by Cathy Mattes

Renwick for Urban Shaman
by Loren Roberts

Feathers Float
by Jenny Fraser

Concepts of Native America
by Robert Houle

Feature: Concepts of Native America

by Robert Houle

 The public artworks of Edgar Heap of Birds date back to the early 1980’s video presentation of “In Our Language” at Times Square, New York.  Perhaps the first text intervention by a Native American, “Tsistsistas”, Cheyenne, a linguistically appropriate name for his nation, could be read by New Yorkers.  It was part of his touring exhibition Sharp Rocks a mixture of paintings, photographs, text installation and video.  He wrote in “Blasted Allegories”: “These diverse visual forms share a common expression and offer the most complete understanding of my thoughts.  The theme which is common among the works is the grave interaction of people and their surroundings, derived from by observation of living nature and history.  I feel that human interaction mirrors the forces in the landscape.  These forces are actually far from the static views we often imagine, but rather nature’s elements continually collide aggressively and powerfully with one another.” 1

Heap of Birds showed great foresight in using one of the world’s most famous street intersections to deconstruct America’s mass-media profiling of Native Americans.  Deconstructing our Algonquin relatives of the classic horse-buffalo-tipi complex of the high plains to a more realistic representation of what is a contemporary Cheyenne. 

Heap of Birds showed great foresight in using one of the world’s most famous street intersections to deconstruct America’s mass-media profiling of Native Americans.  Deconstructing our Algonquin relatives of the classic horse-buffalo-tipi complex of the high plains to a more realistic representation of what is a contemporary Cheyenne.  I visited Edgar on the Cheyenne/Arapaho reservation near Oklahoma City where he teaches while in a group show together in nearby Stillwater.  Edgar uses technology as an expressive learning experience and his usage of the Cheyenne language in Times Square, a bilingual context, where humanity, nature and history continuously collide.  He has continued for the last two decades to create text interventions, exterior and interior, polemical and poetic; his ideas and concepts expressing social and political issues of representation that go back to “Tsistsistas”, Cheyenne, a bicultural context.

Heap of Birds recently completed a large, permanent, public outdoor installation for the Denver Art Museum.  Shanna Ketchum writes in a Smithsonian pamphlet: “The conceptual framework and circular design of the Wheel project were inspired by the Bighorn Medicine Wheel, a sacred site constructed as a circle of stones measuring eight feet in diameter with twenty-eight spokes or dials, located near the crest of the Bighorn Mountains in North central Wyoming.  In Wheel, Heap of Birds will range ten archetypal tree-like forms in a solstice circle to reference this earth renewal site which is visited by many Native people to obtain strong spiritual medicine.” 2 She notes that the installation is rendered secular by adjusting the number of trees in the structure.  However, after delivering a paper on Native American art in Venice last year, I showed a video that featured a ceremonial dance performed by Edgar and his family that captures the human interaction reflected in the forces of the land.  Coming from a Sundance tradition, I immediately responded upon recognition of the dance movements.

Since Sharp Rocks and Wheel, Heap of Birds has been on the cutting edge of polemical work that addresses issues of identity in an empire where representation is dominated by corporate mass media and entertainment interests.  A conceptual Heap of Birds is a mirror to what we know about ourselves and how others see us.  His art is the experience of a warrior artist in the tradition of the Cheyenne and Kiowa captive artists of Fort Marion at St. Augustine, Florida in 1875; and his observations are equally astute in detail and idea as those of Zotem and Making Medicine who had created as pictorial language while in captivity. 3  Edgar Heap of Birds, like them is a warrior artist whose profound sense of history compels him to chronicle a personal narrative into a public one for all to see; like the pictorial “winter counts” or the ledger drawings as a genre depicting a worldview, his contemporary conceptual work is about personal memory and points in time, the spiritual, mythic or sacred.  Heap of Birds makes a great effort to challenge any imposition of a different narrative or any attempt to obliterate his understanding that his roots extend deep into the earth.


1    Edgar Heap of Birds, “My Part My People, Blasted Allegories: An Anthology of Writings by Contemporary Artists,” ed. Brian Wallis (New York, 1987), pp. 170 – 173.

2     Shanna Ketchum, “HOCK E AYE VI EDGAR HEAP OF BIRDS: Diary of Trees – A Site of Convergence,” publication for the exhibition Continuum 12 Artists, National Museum of the American Indian, Gustav Heye Center, (New York, 2003).

3    Herman J. Viola, “Warrior Artists: Historic Cheyenne and Kiowa Ledger Art Drawn by Making Medicine and Zotom,”  (Washington, 1998).

 
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