Happening in and around the White Cube this week…
Miss Chief is back! And boy am I thrilled. As someone who grabs every chance they have to write and talk about Kent Monkman, attending the press conference on Feb. 5, for the artist’s new exhibition, Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience at McCord museum, was a dream come true (I was even lucky enough to meet him!).
I’ll just go out and say it, Kent Monkman is the most relevant artist today and possibly ever. The Canadian-born artist of Cree ancestry comments not only on our current sociocultural conditions, but also colonial history and colonial art history.
“I look for places to take inspiration or to challenge art history told by different perspectives,” Monkman explained at the press conference. Both artist and curator of Shame and Prejudice, he works with existing art and artefacts in McCord’s collection to “jostle tradition” and “rep a Cree worldview.”
A beautifully set table transforms from lavish hors d’oeurves set for colonial officials and polished wood, to splintered bark topped with boney leftovers representing those that were left to scavenge or starve.
Monkman creates masterpieces, both painting and installation/sculptural work, inspired by great classical artists like Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and Leonardo Da Vinci, as well as more arguably problematic work by Pablo Picasso.
Monkman comments on the art world’s (post)modern minimalist trends by comparing them to Indigenous overpopulation in prisons, which he emphasises as the ultimate minimalist dream, living with the bare necessities (Minimalism, 2017). Monkman even comments on natural history by making sculptural pieces, such as in Nativity Scene (2017), which mimics installations in natural history museums; neanderthals and dinosaurs sharing their space with Native Americans with the same head and body in different scenes, wearing different clothing.
Monkman’s favourite piece, The Scream (2017) depicts the violently emotional removal of Indigenous children from their families.The massive painting is centered on a black wall in a black room, surrounded by beautiful handmade baby carriers, ghost-baby carriers (grey, empty carriers symbolising those that were lost), chalk outlines, and work created by Indigenous children in residential schools. There are no words to describe the sense of dread one feels walking into this room. When asked by a CTV journalist, Monkman agreed that it’s about time the impact of colonialism is brought to the public eye in such a visually discerning way.
Monkman’s work checks all the boxes, and surpassing its aesthetic and artistic qualities is its ability to educate, supported by Indigenous voices and knowledge. Present throughout is the gender fluid, twospirit teacher of the century, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle.
Visit Miss Chief in Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience at the McCord Museum until May 5. Miss Chief’s newly released video performance, Another Feather in Her Bonnet, in collaboration with Jean Paul Gaultier and part of a larger installation, is now a part of the permanent collection at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.