Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now
August 29, 2019 – January 12, 2020
This recent acquisition reminds us of the untold histories of this country. Throughout his long career, artist, educator, and advocate for Indigenous communities, Edgar Heap of Birds (Arapaho and Cheyenne) has created paintings, drawings and installations that challenge stereotypical perceptions of Indigenous cultures. Heap of Birds’s work began to garner critical acclaim in the 1980s and 1990s for his critique of a dominant Euro-centric narrative and systemic erasure of Native cultures.
These three drawings are from the artist’s “wall lyrics” series, in which the artist used two, three or four word phrases in a poetic and suggestive way, sometimes with direct or oblique references to contemporary culture, Native American issues and music. Heap of Birds often uses language as a way to disrupt colonial narratives, highlight social and racial inequities, and raise issues of Indigeneity. Additionally, much of his work functions to remind viewers that a large portion of the North American continent remains unceded territory, once controlled by sovereign Indigenous nations.
These text works are deliberately open to interpretation and the artist has said, “The words are mostly personal reflections in a coded language.”
Heap of Birds’s “wall lyrics” series was featured within the Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now, the first exhibition to chart the development of contemporary Indigenous art in the United States and Canada that was at the Nasher in the Fall of 2019.
The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University would like to acknowledge the Coharie, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Haliwa-Saponi, Lumbee, Meherrin, Occaneechi Band of the Saponi, Sappony, and Waccamaw Siouan peoples whose lands include what is known today as North Carolina. We recognize those peoples for whom these were ancestral lands as well as the many Indigenous people who live and work in the region today.
The few works featured below, in the gallery, are great examples of works that pair well with Heap of Birds’s “wall lyrics” series.