Contemporary artist Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds will become the first Native American to receive an honorary degree from the world-renowned California Institute of the Arts.
When graduates take to the stage on Friday for CalArts’ 2018 commencement ceremony, one of the greatest artist in modern times will accompany them. CalArts President Ravi Rajan said, “It is especially gratifying to recognize this great American artist whose work motivates us all to action.”
Heap of Birds, who is of Cheyenne and Arapaho descent, and his text-based paintings, public art projects and abstract paintings produce searing critiques of Western colonial history and its impacts.
“At CalArts, we educate our students to be Citizen Artists,” Rajan said. “Throughout his long and distinguished career, Edgar Heap of Birds has powerfully embodied that ethos.”
Since the 1980s, 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.
“The insurgent messages within art forms must serve as present-day combative tactics,” 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.”
By using the vocabulary of contemporary art to advocate for indigenous peoples in the U.S. and beyond, “Heap of Birds has taught us all how art is an essential component in the fight for social justice,” Rajan said. “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.”
Heap of Birds was described by officials as a well of inspiration for new generations of artists and activists and an exemplary honoree.
The California Institute of the Arts, which was first envisioned by Walt Disney, will hold its commencement ceremony on Friday.