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Native Host Signs 'Intervene' In Key West

Nancy Klingener
Artist Edgar Heap Of Birds, left, discusses his Native Host works of public art during the Currents & Confluences symposium at The Studios of Key West.

  Key West has a lot of signs denoting historic sites. Most point to events and places of significance since Europeans settled the island in the early 19th century.

For the month of March, four new signs point further back into the island's history. They are works of public art by Edgar Heap Of Birds and are part of his Native Host series.

They were placed on Duval Street in front of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, at the Custom House Museum near Mallory Square, at the Hemingway House on Whitehead Street and at West Martello Tower on the island's Atlantic shore.

Each one has the word "FLORIDA" written backwards, then the text "YOUR HOST TODAY IS ... " followed by the name of a Native American tribe that once inhabited the Keys, such as the Tequesta and Calusa.

The signs do not include explanatory text. Heap of Birds said viewers bring their own interpretations and experiences.

"It think it's all about that fragmentary experience. There's no one big huge epiphany all the time," he said. "I really believe in everyone's life having currency. And if I can get in there somewhere and engage with part of it, I'm all right."

Heap Of Birds said his work is an intervention, as well as a reminder that places had a history and inhabitants before European settlers arrived.

"Just the way we dug the hole in the ground, we punctured the ground," he said. "And often the public art is a puncture in the society. It breaches the fabric that's kind of obscuring what's really there."

Heap Of Birds' work is part of the Currents & Confluences symposium at The Studios of Key West. Other works by him are part of an exhibit that will be up at the Studios through March.

The Native Host pieces are "really designed to make you stop and think about what you're looking at," said James McIlhenny, who curated the exhbit.

"A lot of people would say, 'This is just a sign,'" McIlhenny said. "But it's actually trying to make you aware of the palimpsest that you're standing in, that no place on the face of the Earth exists without multiple layers of memory and value."