For more than three decades, Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne and Arapaho Nation, b. 1954) has worked as an artist, activist, and teacher. Based in Oklahoma City and on tribal land, where he has lived since 1981, Heap of Birds consistently creates works that confront repressed or unacknowledged histories of state and settler violence against Native communities in the United States. His work often draws parallels between historical violence and ongoing injustices today. By employing the contemporary term “active shooter” to characterize massacres committed by U.S. troops against Native Americans over a century ago, Heap of Birds reanimates the past in the language of the present. In so doing, he points to the violence of history itself: the power of a dominant culture to erase, forget, or otherwise obscure its own acts of oppression.
Across his drawings, prints, and spatial interventions—such as the steel parking signs that appear throughout the building, alluding to the forced relocation of Native communities, including those in New York, to Oklahoma in the 1830s as part of the Trail of Tears—Heap of Birds harnesses the power of familiar forms and expressions for political ends. In his recent installations of monoprints and their corresponding “ghost prints,” the artist culls poetic fragments from a wide range of sources, appropriating popular music, sayings taken from reservation social gatherings, written accounts of historical events, and political speeches, among others. By transforming vernacular language into monumental works of art resembling grids of protest posters, Heap of Birds blurs the boundaries between aesthetics, pedagogy, and activism, creating a body of work that opens new critical perspectives on American histories and cultures.
Born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1954, Edgar Heap of Birds lives and works in Oklahoma City, where he taught at the University of Oklahoma from 1988 to 2018. His work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at institutions such as the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; The Fabric Workshop, Philadelphia; the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia; the Berkeley Art Museum, California; the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, New York; and the Association For Visual Arts Museum, Cape Town, South Africa. Heap of Birds has been included in numerous group exhibitions at museums including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Denver Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney, The Peabody Essex Museum, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York; and in international biennials such as SITE Santa Fe, La Biennale di Venezia, and Documenta. He has also created major commissions for the Walker Art Center and Public Art Fund, and been the recipient of awards from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and The Rockefeller Foundation, among others.
Organized by Ruba Katrib, Curator, with Oliver Shultz, Curatorial Associate, MoMA PS1.