An exhibition opening on Wednesday will feature art created by Native American students and alumni of Haskell Indian Nations University, who tell stories of resistance and healing through their work.
Artist and Haskell art professor David Titterington is the curator of the exhibition, “The Heart Is a Fist.” The title comes from poet Joy Harjo’s poem, “Break My Heart,” in which she writes, “The heart is a fist / It pockets prayer or holds rage.”
The exhibition was first shown in April at the Kansas City Public Library in conjunction with Harjo’s reading of her book, “An American Sunrise.” Harjo was the first Native American person to serve as U.S. poet laureate. Titterington explained the upcoming version of The Heart Is a Fist, showing at the University of Kansas, brings a different context and will occupy a much larger gallery space.
“Here, it’s more about exposing these ideas without Harjo. Or rather, most of the work was made before Harjo’s book even came out, so the work can and should be seen on its own,” Titterington said via email.
The Heart Is a Fist consists of pieces by former and current Haskell students — all who utilize their own techniques to tell powerful stories of “ancestral connections, beauty, humor, art as ceremony, and creation as survivance,” Titterington said. He explained that these only make up a fraction of the artwork produced at Haskell each semester.
Many of the featured works pay homage to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) movement and connect to Indian residential boarding schools, as well as Native stereotypes, “tribal patterns, family crests, and ceremonial ‘power objects,’” Titterington said.
Illustrations of pain are paired with joy and laughter within the collection as well.
“There is also humor in the show and positive images of sisterhood, as we see in a large colored pencil drawing by Alexis Whitehorn-Coriz of two young girls surrounded by floral patterns, walking together barefoot in the mud,” Titterington said.
In addition to Titterington’s collection, works by artist Sydney Pursel will be featured alongside. Pursel is a local artist, hired this year as KU’s first curator for public practice.
Pursel, who is an enrolled member of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, will be showing a piece called “Earth Day Intervention.” Pursel said she began locating Statue of Liberty replicas, which are a project of the Boy Scouts of America, around Kansas and Missouri. As part of a project, she dressed the various replicas in Native American regalia, making a statement.
“The Statue of Liberty is this welcoming beacon to the United States, but I wanted to honor the original inhabitants of the United States because they were here first,” Pursel said. “So it was a way to highlight Indigenous women, honor Indigenous women, showcase different regalia styles, and then draw attention to the fact that Indigenous peoples were here first.”
Since the project is still in the works and Pursel hopes to eventually expand it, she will be showing a video about the project, prints of four of the statues, and one outfit on a cardboard cutout of a statue as part of the exhibit.
The exhibition will be on display from Wednesday, Oct. 12 through Friday, Nov. 4 at Edgar Heap of Birds Family Gallery — which is on the third floor of Chalmers Hall at KU, 1467 Jayhawk Blvd. It will be open for viewing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
A reception will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 23 at the gallery, with a panel discussion at 3 p.m.
The Edgar Heap of Birds Family Gallery – named after artist and KU alumnus Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes – was formerly called the Arts and Design Gallery, and Pursel said she hopes this exhibition will advance opportunities for the artists.
“I’m also really excited that the gallery has this new name and that Native artists are going to be featured in it so that we can give them some additional lines on their resume with a more impactful name to the gallery,” Pursel said.
See the full list of featured artists on the exhibition’s Facebook event page.