In “Do Not Dance for Pay,” a recent work from acclaimed artist Edgar Heap of Birds, the title phrase appears in white letters that look as if they have been smudged on a blood red background. The statement is also a call to action from the Cheyenne artist who has commented on the issues facing indigenous people throughout his long career.
Heap of Birds advocates for community participation. “We need to focus on the community, the people and the traditions, not necessarily as subject matter but as actual dances, prayers, the reality of it, not the image of it,” he says.
“Primarily what I advocate in every case is to meet Native people in the community, reach out, and have them come to class. My students all meet artists in the practice of art,” he explains. Heap of Birds often invites artists to visit the class. Then students write a paper on a living Native American artist whom they interview. “It’s all about face-to-face interaction and not mediated by TV or movies or even a lot of books. Can you actually go and engage these people and feel comfortable and continue to do that, continue to immerse yourself in this culture?”
That real-world interaction with indigenous communities remains part of Heap of Birds’ practice as well. He has learned from and collaborated with indigenous people in places like Australia, South Africa, and Sumatra. He asks, “Can we exist without this history of domination and find a way to enjoy our own existence with other indigenous communities, so that it’s not always being subjugated or harmed by history or the white man and always focusing only on this victimization?”
Read the full article about Native-American artist and educator by Liz Ohanesian at GOOD Magazine.
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