A Retrospective of Edgar Heap of Birds Rises High

With public art pieces, biting political, text-based work, and more intimate abstract paintings, this small exhibition illuminates Heap of Birds’s expansive career.

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According to Bill Anthes’s book, Edgar Heap of Birds, the artist began his “Native Hosts” series back in 1988. Like the new commission displayed outside Bockley Gallery, the “Native Hosts” contain the “settler” name of a place written backwards, with the Native Host spelled forward, welcoming the viewer. Like many place names around the country, Minnesota is a derivation of a Native American word (“Mní sóta” means clear blue water in Dakota), but its appropriation by a state responsible for many atrocities against Native people warrants Heap of Birds’s critical treatment.  Cloud Man Village, meanwhile, was a short-lived community led by Dakota chief Cloud Man, on the banks of the Bde Maka Ska lakeThe Bockley Gallery currently has on view a mini-retrospective of the work of Edgar Heap of Birds (whose Cheyenne name is Hock E Aye VI), which contains examples of different bodies of work the Cheyenne/Arapaho artist has created over his extensive career.

Heap of Birds’s showing at Bockley offers a small taste of the immense body of work this artist has created over a number of decades, and the only improvement I can suggest is that he deserves much more recognition. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from the “Scaffold” and Jimmie Durham controversies, it’s that there’s a need for more attention to be paid to Native artists working in contemporary practices.

Edgar Heap of Birds runs through October 21 at Bockley Gallery (2123 West 21st Street, Minneapolis).

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8 thoughts on “A Retrospective of Edgar Heap of Birds Rises High

  1. Interesting work… so powerful in its succinct message! And disturbingly accurate in its pronouncement, because all primitive cultures — including Anglo cultures — in their earliest incarnations believed in the power of names, sounds, syllables…How eerie that in stealing the bastardized Native names of places and people we demand the right of ownership as though we still on some primal level sense that to know the true name of something is to have absolute power over it. Yet power is empty without wisdom… And when it is stolen and even the “conqueror” has no respect for proper pronunciation, the potency of that language is lost like water through a sieve. One must respect the innate, natural power of the syllables AS spoken for the magic to be realized…something we are, thank the gods of such things, unable in our unrestrained arrogance to appreciate.

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