“Inilli Gnithgif” signs cause buzz on campus

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Megan Graham

Something on West Nevada Street has got people talking.

Twelve things, actually, have become a source of conversation, and sometimes confusion, for pedestrians near the University’s cultural houses on Nevada Street. Twelve signs, reading, for example, “Inilli Gnithgif, Today your host is Peoria,” are part of an art exhibit called “Beyond the Chief,” which is supposed to encourage the native history of the campus and of Illinois.

Each sign represents an indigenous people whose homeland is in Illinois. The backwards spelling of “Fighting Illini” is supposed to encourage the audience to think back to the past and consider the history of the land that is now the University.

Robert Warrior, director of American Indian Studies and the Native American House, organized the exhibit with the Cheyenne-Arapaho artist Hock E Aye VI Edgar Heap of Birds.

“I first thought of asking Edward to come to campus back in September or so. I thought of his work as being provocative and thought-provoking in a really positive way.”

Warrior said the signs have already gotten people talking.

“The ideal reaction is for everybody who sees the signs to think about this particular place where we come to learn, to think of people whose homelands these have been historically,” he said.

Warrior said he believes the exhibit is important because it includes all people on campus, instead of having some other sort of exhibit that would only include people that chose to attend.

“This exhibit is not an ‘us vs. them’ exercise where we set ourselves up as knowing something others don’t. We all have something to learn.”

Warrior said he hopes the signs will lead viewers to question the past and think about the cultural identities that have existed in this area over the years.

The other cultural houses in the vicinity have not experienced a lot of curious viewers yet, but Pia Sengsavanh, program coordinator for Asian American Studies, believes they will soon.

“I think it will get people talking because they aren’t sure what it is. It definitely grabs people’s attention,” said Sengsavanh.

Jennifer L. DeLuna, program coordinator at La Casa Cultural Latina, agreed.

“I see people walking by them and looking at them. The students that I work with and who come here are definitely talking about it,” said DeLuna.

There will be an artist’s talk and opening reception for Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at the Asian American Cultural Center, 1210 West Nevada Street, Urbana, at 5:30pm and a campus lecture will occur on Thursday, February 19 at School of Art and Design, Room 229 408 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign, at 12 noon.