Heap of Birds explains meaning behind art

At the end of his art gallery, Edgar Heap of Birds talks about the meaning behind his artwork and experiences. “Art is like a sideline job. My real job is taking care of my family, my nation, my people,” Heap of Birds said. Photo by Arianna Davis

The opening reception of “Secrets in Life and Death” by multi-disciplinary Arapaho and Cheyenne artist, Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, took place Jan. 27 at the Juanita Harvey Art Gallery.  During the exhibit, Heap of Birds sought to provide deeper explanations behind his art and life, which he explained during his informal talk. Mono prints, acrylic paintings, public art message signs and a blown-glass vase were on display.

The most recent addition to “Secrets in Life and Death” is the mono print series, Genocide and Democracy, created in 2016 which focuses on the injustices and current views of Native American people.

“I’ve been doing experimentation with solvents to alter the words, blurring the words,” Heap of Birds said. “I’m attacking the words much like in some ways the social justice in America of Native people is an onslaught. We’re being attacked with poverty, ill health, dysfunction, so I’m doing the same with the prints. It’s kind of an interesting, exciting transition for me.”

“Secrets in Life and Death” focused on illuminating the struggles within the lives of Native American people, as well as acknowledging Native Americans’ cultural differences.

“A lot of Native American existence is suppressed in America, so the dominant culture doesn’t tend to know much about the original people that are here so it’s like a secret,” Heap of Birds said.

Heap of Birds works in a series of four, the word “neuf” in the Cheyenne language, which inspired the title of his acrylic painting series.  Genocide and Democracy is comprised of 16 mono prints. Eight of the Genocide and Democracy mono prints are displayed at the exhibit here, while the other eight are on display at an exhibit in SoHo.

“There’s a lot of violence and genocide so the secret of life and death is about these issues being obscured.  Often Native people are reduced to stereotypes, it doesn’t sum up who they really are,” Heap of Birds said. “That’s a secret too, Natives are just people, just individuals.  They’re not a group of anything, there’s not Indians. There’s tribes then there’s individuals in the tribes, but there’s not an Indian anything in America.” 

Heap of Birds’ informal talk focused on who he is as an artist and generosity.  He mentioned that while selling art matters, it is not the most important part of his work.  He spoke about his family and their importance to him, as well as the responsibility of an artist to share a message with the people.

Gary Goldberg, photography professor and art gallery director said, “The important thing to know about Edgar is just, he’s a really nice human.  He really cares about people, his family, and the world. He’s an important American artist.”

Heap of Birds is also a full professor at the University of Oklahoma where he teaches Native American Studies and he also took a moment to speak about the mission of an artist.  Ultimately, he said his goal is “to share an exchange.”

“As a young artist, you’re taught well to go have a career and be driven, but I don’t know if you’re taught to be generous,” Heap of Birds said. “But that’s what’s gotten me to where I am today.”

Catherine Prose, print making professor, commented on Heap of Birds’ work and spoke of how much she and her students enjoyed working with him on the “Native Hosts” for Texas, while he was visiting the campus. Heap of Birds said he did not mind sharing his work and he hopes other artists would be willing to spread knowledge through their art, so he’s not the only artist raising awareness to real life issues affecting the community.

“Edgar’s work is like poetry. He’s coupling positive and negatives in his work, in terms of words. He’s coupling the past with the present and I would hope that students would make that connection, and it would spark an interest in history, an interest to do some research,” Prose said.

Students found the exhibit interesting and left with an awareness of issues within the Native American community.

“The paintings were pretty cool.  It’s just something different that I haven’t seen before and it’s interesting, I like it,” Veronica Balderas, accounting junior, said.

After the informal talk, students posed questions to Heap of Birds and said they found his answers and discussion of the meaning of his artwork insightful.

“I would say the prints because of the message behind them. Listening to his lecture before the showing tonight, it was interesting to hear the stories you never hear of. There’s still issues today,” Sandra Cruz, art and biology junior, said.

“Secrets in Life and Death” will remain on display until Feb. 24.

“Those are the secrets of life and death, and there’s a lot of things happening there are life and death for Native people,” Heap of Birds said.