Oklahoma Contemporary

Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds: Honor Song

Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds: Honor Song

Featuring 90+ artworks across our galleries and Campbell Art Park

January 30 – October 20, 2025 | Mary LeFlore Clements Oklahoma Gallery

February 20 – August 4, 2025 | Eleanor Kirkpatrick Main Gallery

Opening April 24, 2025 | Campbell Art Park

Oklahoma Contemporary presents the first major retrospective of Oklahoma City-based artist Edgar Heap of Birds (b. 1954, Wichita, Kansas; Cheyenne and Arapaho Nation), who is known internationally for conceptual artwork that addresses Indigenous rights, sovereignty, and relationships to place. Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds: Honor Song is a landmark for American art, for the region, and for the city: the artist’s first institutional survey in his home-state of the last forty years. The exhibition spans over four decades of art production, tracing Heap of Birds’s trajectory from the 1970s to the present through colorful prints, abstract paintings, drawings, glassworks, sculptures, and public works.

An abstract bird shape filled with geometric designs in yellow, white, blue and brown

Edgar Heap of Birds, Water Bird

The campus-wide installation takes over Oklahoma Contemporary’s indoor galleries and outdoor spaces, and includes archival materials, original printing plates, and new works commissioned for a workshop this fall leading up to the show that is part of Getty's Paper Project initiative for curatorial innovation in the graphic arts. The totality of work reveals a through-line: Heap of Birds harnesses conceptual art approaches to address the treatment of Native American communities and advocate for the agency of Indigenous identity toward stewardship of the earth we all share.

Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds: Honor Song features the artist’s signature text-based prints involving urgent messages that highlight issues, figures, and events distinct to Indigeneity, yet that also speak to universal human conditions. These monotype works are often saturated with deep hues and accompanied by fainter “ghost prints” executed from a second pull enlisting the use of varied colors of paper. Heap of Birds explains, “the primary prints represent who we are as Native people: bright, vibrant, strong, clear;” while the “ghost prints’” allude to how marginalized Indigenous people are believed to be “gone, like ghosts.” Presented by the dozens in massive, overwhelming grids, these “wall lyrics” convey the relentless march of history and the depths of pain and joy experienced by many on this land over time. For Heap of Birds, form advances content.

Black and white print reads "Natural. We don't want Indians. Just their names, mascots, machines, cities, products, buildings. Living people."

Edgar Heap of Birds, Telling Many Magpies, Telling Black Wolf, Telling Hachivi

Mixed-media projects relating to Heap of Birds’s public interventions are a highlight of the exhibition. Since the 1980s, the artist has appropriated the civic language of traffic signs and wayfinding to create site-specific works that make visible the unexamined histories of a given place. Charged by forms that convey municipal authority, Heap of Birds’s public works call out tribal nations erased from lands we inhabit, delivering powerful commentary on the treatment of Indigenous communities. For Heap of Birds, public signs are a space for meditating on who is given a voice.

Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds: Honor Song provides, for many, the first opportunity to see the artist’s ongoing, yet lesser-known, abstract acrylic paintings. Begun as a daily practice in 1981, when Heap of Birds moved to Oklahoma tribal and ancestral lands, the “imagery” in his paintings involves repeated and layered diagonal shapes of color with jagged edges that seem to vibrate with earthly energy. Titled Neuf, the Cheyenne language word for performing actions in sets of four, each composition is shaped formally by the ritually and cosmologically significant tetrad, regardless of scale or where the artist created the painting. Exhibition curator, Pablo Barrera notes, “For Heap of Birds, the practice of painting—especially when he is traveling the globe—becomes an enactment of cultural sovereignty.”

Featuring over 500 art objects in various media loaned from collections across the country, Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds: Honor Song, will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with critical essays, providing audiences and researchers an opportunity to, for the first time, consider the breadth of a ground-breaking American artist. Along with never-before presented ephemera from the artist’s studio, the expansive exhibition will make evident the ways in which Edgar Heap of Birds has utilized color, text, place, and the language of abstraction to reconstruct histories and advance the rights of people and land.



A person with gray hair wearing a denim jacket and beaded medallion kneels on the ground

Edgar Heap of Birds. Photo by Ted West.

About the Artist
Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds (b. 1954, Wichita, Kansas) is a multidisciplinary artist and citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Nation, for which he serves as headsman of the Elk Warrior Society, instructing ceremony on tribal lands near Geary, Oklahoma. He received his BFA from the University of Kansas (1976), undertook graduate studies in painting at the Royal College of Art, London (1977), and received an MFA from the Tyler School of Art, Temple University (1979). Heap of Birds has participated in over 200 national and international exhibitions since the early 1980s and his works are part of museum collections worldwide. He has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including induction as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2020). From 1988 to 2018, Heap of Birds was a professor at the University of Oklahoma, served as visiting lecturer in over 14 countries, and was invited to teach at Yale University and Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, South Africa. He is now Professor Emeritus in the University of Oklahoma Native American Studies Department and continues to live and work in Oklahoma City.


Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds: Honor Song is organized by Oklahoma Contemporary Adjunct Curator Pablo Barrera (Wixáritari) with the artist.

Logo reads "National Endowment for the Arts" with red and blue lines and arts.gov underneath

This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit www.arts.gov.


"Getty" in blue letters

A special workshop connected to this exhibition is made possible with support from the Getty through The Paper Project Initiative.


Red logo reads "LUCE" with "Henry Luce Foundation" in black text to the right

This project is supported by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. The Henry Luce Foundation seeks to deepen knowledge and understanding in pursuit of a more democratic and just world. Established in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time, Inc., the Luce Foundation advances its mission by nurturing knowledge communities and institutions, fostering dialogue across divides, enriching public discourse, amplifying diverse voices, and investing in leadership development.


Images:

Edgar Heap of Birds, Places of Healing, 2020. 24 monoprints and 24 ghost prints on paper. Each panel, 30 x 22 in. Tate Modern, Tate Americas Foundation. © Edgar Heap of Birds. Image courtesy of the artist.

Edgar Heap of Birds, Water is Your Only Medicine, 2020. 24 monoprints and 24 ghost prints on paper. Each panel, 30 x 22 in. Collection of Remai Modern. Purchased with the support of the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation, 2023. © Edgar Heap of Birds. Image courtesy of the artist.

Detail of Native Hosts, 2017 at the artist’s studio. From the series Native Hosts, 1988 – ongoing. Enamel on steel panels. 18 x 36 in. © Edgar Heap of Birds. Photo by Pablo Barrera. Courtesy of the artist.

Edgar Heap of Birds, Water Bird, 1973. Acrylic on canvas. 60 x 48 in. Collection of Margaret Heap of Birds. © Edgar Heap of Birds. Image courtesy of the artist.

Edgar Heap of Birds, Telling Many Magpies, Telling Black Wolf, Telling Hachivi, 1989. Screenprint diptych. 72 5/16 x 45 1/8 inches. © Edgar Heap of Birds. Image courtesy of the artist.

Edgar Heap of Birds, Was Told 12 Times, 2022. 12 monoprints on paper. Each panel, 22 x 15 inches. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Severance ad Greta Millikin Trust, 2023.8.1-12. © Edgar Heap of Birds. Image courtesy of the artist.

Edgar Heap of Birds, American League, 1994. Serigraph. 36 x 60 in. Tia Collection, Santa Fe. © Edgar Heap of Birds. Image courtesy of the artist.

Edgar Heap of Birds, Ma-ka’ta l-na’-zin (One Who Stands on the Earth), 1990. Enamel on steel panel. 18 x 36 1/8 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Edith C. Blum Fund, 2015. © Edgar Heap of Birds. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Edgar Heap of Birds, Untitled, 2007. Murano glass. 16 x 14 x 14 inches. Made for Most Serene Republics, 2007, exhibition on the occasion of the 52nd Venice Biennial in collaboration with the. National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. © Edgar Heap of Birds. Image courtesy of the artist.

Edgar Heap of Birds, Our Red Nations Were Always Green, 2021. 24 monoprints and 24 ghost prints on paper. Each panel, 30 x 22 in. Private collection. © Edgar Heap of Birds. Image courtesy of the artist.

Edgar Heap of Birds, Most Serene Republics, 2007. Banner installed at Marco Polo International Airport, Venice, Italy. 72 x 216 in. Made for Most Serene Republics, 2007, exhibition on the occasion of the 52nd Venice Biennial in collaboration with the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Private collection. © Edgar Heap of Birds. Image courtesy of the artist.

National Endowment for the Arts logo. Provided by National Endowment for the Arts.

Getty logo. Provided by the Getty.

Henry Luce Foundation logo. Provided by the Henry Luce Foundation.

Edgar Heap of Birds. Portrait by Ted West on ceremonial grounds west of Geary, Oklahoma.

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