Pitzer College’s new art+environment program inaugurated its first semester with a public art installation by Edgar Heap of Birds, a Native American contemporary artist and the program’s first artist-in-residence. The installation, “Native Hosts,” will be on display for two years in various locations around Pitzer’s campus.
Heap of Birds is recognized for some of the earliest and most powerful conceptual Native American art. The inspiration for “Native Hosts” comes from Heap of Birds’s vision of conducting his art projects by entering a new space and acknowledging that he is a guest on lands with native hosts. In the case of Pitzer’s exhibit, he aims to honor and bring attention to the Tongva, an indigenous people of California, who once occupied the entire Los Angeles Basin.
“Native Hosts” consists of 20 signs displaying the names of 12 historic tribal villages and sacred sites, including four sacred mountains and four sacred rivers.
Pitzer art history professor Bill Anthes, who is also director of the art+environment program, described the artwork as “a point of conversation for members of our campus community and visitors to the campus about our local ‘hosts’ in Southern California.”
“A goal of the art+environment program is to think expansively about how we interact with non-human nature and how art can help us imagine other possible relationships between humans and the environment,” Anthes said. “Edgar’s work with the indigenous Tongva, who have known these lands for generations and for whom geography is deeply spiritual, is a fitting beginning for our program.”
Will Cafritz PZ ’16 said that at first, he was confused by the signs.
“I can’t say that they are aesthetically pleasing, but I do realize that this is the main point,” he said. “The artist is trying to make us realize that we came onto indigenous land and put hideous signs and billboards all over the place in our foreign language.”
“They really stand out on campus,” Owen Foster PZ ’15 said. “They are intrusive and strategically placed so that you can’t help but notice them whenever you are walking. If the artist’s vision was to get students thinking about the land we now occupy, he definitely succeeded.”
Heap of Birds is enrolled in the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. In addition to being an artist, he is a writer, educator, and tribal leader. His art has been exhibited both nationally and internationally, including at The Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia.
In a previous interview for the Pomona College Museum of Art, Heap of Birds said that the goal of this project was to “expose the reality of being a native person in America, [namely,] the genocide and process of colonialism that damaged Indian nations and erased many of them.”
In addition to the installation at Pitzer, Heap of Birds has worked with the Pomona College Museum of Art to create an exhibit entitled “Nuance of Sky.” This exhibit runs until April 14, 2013.