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214 Hachivi Edgar Heap of Birds’s Artwork ​ “Native Peoples Have Chosen Art as Their Cultural Tool and Weapon” Hachivi Edgar Heap of Birds’s artwork is the most art-­ based visual autobiography included in this book. His word paintings emphasize the visuality of letters, the fact that words are images that we’ve agreed to read in a certain manner. He challenges conventional reading practices by giving letters color and texture, depth and scope, by defamiliarizing words from the conventions of syntax and paragraph, forcing us to deal with language as marks on the page or canvas. His abstract paintings reference shapes and hues of his home in Oklahoma as well as his global travels. His installations and public art exhibits, which juxtapose image and text, demand an interactive engagement. When visitors to the Fifty-­ Second International Art Exhibition of the 2007 Venice Biennale arrived at Marco Polo International Airport, they were welcomed by an intriguing billboard (fig. 8.1). The billboard is one part of Cheyenne-­ Arapaho conceptual-­ activist artist Hachivi (pronounced Hock E Aye Vi) Edgar Heap of Birds’s public artwork, entitled Most Serene Republics, created for the Venice Biennale. The exhibit consists of “a series of text interventions” (Ash-­ Milby 58) placed throughout Venice: the airport billboard, sign installations, posters, and printed tote bags given to attendees. Heap of Birds’s trilingual text—in English, Italian, and Cheyenne—exhorts viewers-­ readers to remember, rammentare in Italian. Specifically, Heap of Birds raises awareness of the Native performers who traveled to Europe in 1890 as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and who died far from home, their remains never returned to their homelands. In this billboard, Heap of Birds’s textual design insists that we both look and read. The notice passes briefly as official signage—“benvenuti . . . welcome to the show,” but both its content and form disrupt the process of reading. Viewers are startled by the reference to the historic figure of Buffalo Bill; they are baffled by the Cheyenne words—nastona and numshim—that Heap of Birds translates respectively as “our daughters ” and “our grandfathers.” Below each of these Cheyenne words, he 215 Hachivi Edgar Heap of Birds’s Artwork names those who perished. The act of naming serves as an act of remembrance and a call for repatriation. The polyphony of English, Italian , and Cheyenne suggests the transnational experience of Native performers and the collision of cultures in a colonial context. Heap of Birds recalls these nineteenth-­ century Native losses in the expansive context of “the violent origins of most nation-­ states, created through the destruction or subjugation of other cultures” (Lowe 14). The trilingual text is framed all around by alternating icons: the Christian cross in the center of a shield and a “Cheyenne warrior society shield” featuring an eagle (Heap of Birds e-­ mail). A well-­ known symbol of the Christian Crusades, a bloody conquest that extended into global colonization, alternates with an image of the Cheyenne resistance to European invasion. The clash of Christian and indigenous cultures frames the text, visualizing the historic context. As a result of Christian colonization of the so-­ called New World, Native people lost autonomy, with some performing “Indianness ” for non-­ Native audiences as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. More than one hundred years later, Heapof Birds traveled to a prominent art world center and the prestigious Venice Biennale in Europe to communicate an indigenous account of the history and legacy of violence and colonialism. His art, like the nineteenth-­ century ledger book art of Native warriors imprisoned at Fort Marion, in Saint Augustine, Florida, is a form of resistance and renewal. Although there is nothing explicitly autobiographical here—we don’t learn about Heap of Birds’s childhood or his development as an artist, his favorite color or his family life—Heap of Birds’s focus on memory, history, and community is central to his self-­ fashioning. He makes visible a history of Native erasure, a necessary first step in articulating a contemporary, collective, and sovereign Native identity.To enter fully into a Cheyenne-­Arapaho subjectivity, Heap of Birds must renarrate colonial history from an indigenous perspective and bring home the remains of scattered ancestors. In his artwork Heap of Birds appropriates colonial and settler discourses of place and time, transforming their meaning in the process. Like Leslie Figure 8.1. Edgar Heap of Birds. Most Serene Republics airport billboard (Venice Biennale, 2007). (From the collection of the artist. Courtesy...


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