California Institute of the Arts will award an honorary doctorate of arts degree to contemporary artist Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds at the Institute’s 2018 commencement ceremony on Friday, May 11.
Heap of Birds’ text-based paintings, public art projects, and abstract paintings produce searing critiques of Western colonial history and its impacts.
“At this time, for indigenous citizens and communities, the manifestation of our struggle has changed,” Heap of Birds wrote in Sharp Rocks. “Today we find that the survival of our people is based upon our use of expressive forms of modern communication. The insurgent messages within these forms must serve as our present-day combative tactics.”
“It is especially gratifying to recognize this great American artist whose work motivates us all to action,” said CalArts President Ravi Rajan. “At CalArts, we educate our students to be Citizen Artists. Throughout his long and distinguished career, Edgar Heap of Birds has powerfully embodied that ethos. Using the vocabulary of contemporary art to advocate for indigenous peoples in the US and beyond, he has taught us all how art is an essential component in the fight for social justice.”
Heap of Birds, who is of Cheyenne/Arapaho descent, is the first Native American to receive an honorary degree from CalArts. His work as an artist and teacher continually seeks to amplify marginalized voices, even as it challenges the tropes which so often overshadow a spectrum of experiences. A well of inspiration for new generations of artists and activists, he is an exemplary, honoree.
Dr. Lowery Stokes Sims, curator emerita of the Museum of Arts and Design, and former executive director and president of the Studio Museum in Harlem commented, “Since the 1980s, Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds has been a key figure in the art world grappling with notions of identity, cultural hegemony, the impact of the past on the present, and a true sense of what it is to be ‘American.’
“His challenges in this work have been formidable. He has had to deal with the misnomered designation of the first inhabitants of this hemisphere: the result of geographical ignorance of 15th century Europe,” Sims said.
“He has had to deal with the concerted effort to eliminate or assimilate those inhabitants and to debase their traditions and culture. He has had to deal with his own concerted effort to take a stand in this society and assert his actuality as a Native American, artist, activist, cultural leader and family man,” Sims said.
Heap of Birds’ work has been shown internationally at such institutions as the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian, Documenta in Kassel, Germany, and the Venice Biennale.
Since 1988 he has taught Native American Studies at the University of Oklahoma and has taught as a visiting professor at Yale and the Rhode Island School of Design.