Gallery brings awareness to city and Native American history

Lane Riggs

The opening reception for “Secrets in Life and Death,” by Cheyenne and Arapaho artist Hock Aye VI Edgar Heap of Birds, will be on Jan. 27 from 6-8 p.m. During the reception, Heap of Birds will host an informal talk after which the floor will be open to questions. Heap of Birds is a multi-disciplinary artist who has presented his works throughout the United States and worldwide, with venues in India, China, and Australia. While some of his artwork, such as the 50-foot signature sculpture, Wheel, can be large and demanding, most of his artwork chooses to present a large presence within smaller frames.

“Secrets in Life and Death” features monoprints that are created in four different shades of blue in a reference to the sacred number and the significance of water. The monoprints featured within the gallery have to do with indigenous people and personal emotions, and through this, the prints deal with Native American history and issues that most have no knowledge in.

“The gallery is a rebuttal for ignorance and injustice. Native American life is so invisible,” Heap of Birds said. “It’s important to represent, but it’s hard because the art has to appease tourists. Native American art never approaches reality; we’re handicapped that way.”

His newest addition to the gallery is “Genocide and Democracy,” in which Heap of Birds takes patriotic songs and combines them with Native American life.

“Native Americans never want to sing the songs. The republic is not for them, and so the prints look at the irony of patriotism,” he said. “It’s in order to articulate social justice issues.”

These social justice issues, gallery director and professor, Gary Goldberg, said, is something that is not addressed within school.

“There’s really no Native American track in school. Most history and education concerning Native Americans is small,” Goldberg said. “And so each monoprint is a bit of history. They’re like haiku poems, they’re very sparse but very dense with meaning.”

By simply looking at the prints, the audience may not understand the meaning unless they have some context. Because of this, Heap of Birds strives to bring more knowledge and attention to Native American history.

“It’s baffling to see how people never think of the names of the streets here, never think of the people who used to live here,” Heap of Birds said. “It just goes to show how absent native life is. It’s good to be at the school to bring awareness.”

By bringing awareness to Native American history, Heap of Birds has become a national and international presence.

“He’s an important American artist. He’s very informative and he presents a point of view we should expose students to,” Goldberg said. “In the 34 years that I have been here, there has never been any Native American artwork presented. And it’s something that should be — it’s a part of Wichita Falls’ history and heritage.”

Goldberg hopes the gallery serves as a teaching tool to the students and the community. He said most do not know the history of Wichita Falls.

“Heap of Birds presents artwork that people might not ordinarily see,” he said. “It’s got everything to do with the geographic area. There’s Native American influence because of the names of the county and city. People don’t know much about that.”

Part of the gallery is dedicated to Heap of Birds’ public art, in which he took signs in states, flipped the state’s name, and added the Native American name for the land. In doing so, he has brought awareness to what the land that used to be.

“It’s a way to honor the land. I’m a stranger there, a foreigner,” Heap of Birds said. “Most of the places I visit, I’m not from a nearby tribe.”

He said that there are 10 or 12 of these public art works across the country, either permanent or temporary.

“They are used to show what was once sacred ground,” Goldberg said. “He’s saying that this is where his relatives might be buried. It’s all a part of reclaiming places.”

One new piece to the gallery is the red monoprint with several names on it. This piece, Goldberg said, was made specifically for the show on Friday, as the names represent tribes that were in or around Wichita Falls. It was made two months ago.

“I have a lot of advisors that help out with names. I consult people, so I do partly collaborate with communities,” Heap of Birds said.

Though the community has not viewed the gallery yet, the faculty’s reaction to the gallery, Goldberg said, is one of excitement.

“Everyone’s excited about it, everyone is interested,” he said. “If you know about art, then you will realize that Heap of Birds is of really high importance and a big influence in the field.”

There will be a talk on Jan. 26 at 5 p.m. in C111 in the Fain Fine Arts Building. During this talk, Heap of Birds will show historical art and talk about genocide. He will also show the public parts of his new projects. The gallery will be open to the community until its close on Feb. 24.