The vandals are still on the run, but the public artwork “Native Hosts” – created by Edgar Heap of Birds – is back in its place, sparking a wave of gratitude.
Last month, one of five Native Hosts panels was stolen and four were damaged. All five were relocated on Wednesday.
“What are the signs that invoke such a response in someone that they
want to destroy or desecrate? ”asked D’Arlyn Bell, a freshman doctoral student, member of the KU First Nations Students Association.
According to Bell, a member of the Cherokee Nation, Aboriginal peoples see themselves in the artist’s work “and that is why we took personal offense.”
She added: “And when something is destroyed, we rebuild it, we recreate it, we do it again. And that’s what we do here today.”
The signs include the names of tribes in the area now known as Kansas. They bear the colonial name of Kansas and the names of the area’s first settlers, who belonged to tribes such as Kaw and Kickapoo.
Kansas is spelled backwards – and that’s one of the reasons Robert Warrior says people are going to take a second look at the job.
“The way Edgar (Heap of Birds) describes this is that he says there’s a ‘going back’, it’s an invitation that’s part of these panels,” said Warrior, professor of literature and of American Culture at KU and a member of the Osage Nation. “He says you’re going to look behind you to think some more.”
Museum director Saralyn Reece Hardy said she was “deeply troubled” by recent acts of theft and vandalism.
“This series is a recognition of land, a recognition of place,” said Hardy. “The signs recognize the land we occupy, which has been here before, and call us to know the erasure.”
Hardy said the museum and university are committed to reinstalling the five panels – with added security.
“We remain committed to showcasing public art,” said Hardy, “and amplifying Indigenous and Indigenous voices. ”
She added, “The panels represent the creative work of Edgar Heap of Birds and the work of all artists who strive to express their freedoms.”
According to KU Deputy Chief of Public Safety James Druen, the theft case was sent to the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office for “prosecution considerations.”
Investigators have photos of the vandals.
But, said Druen, the vandalism case remains open, and “until someone comes forward and identifies the people in the footage, we’re sort of at a standstill.”
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