Arts Arts and Culture

The origin story of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle

Cree artist Kent Monkman and his long-time collaborator Gisèle Gordon discussed the process behind their recent book project recollecting the memoirs of Monkman’s time-traveling, supernatural and gender-fluid alter ego.

On Nov. 20 at the Grande Bibliothèque de BAnQ, an audience of primarily Concordia students and alumni were treated to a rare performance by Miss Chief Eagle Testickle herself. Donning a glittering transparent robe and sharp stiletto heels, Miss Chief orated an excerpt from her fantastical memoir, beginning with her eye-witness account of the creation of the universe when she was only a young elemental being. 

This was followed by her recounting of  her turbulent yet thrilling descent to earth, her erotic discovery of her new human body, and her horror at the brutal and neglectful treatment of the sacred belongings of the Indigenous people of Turtle Island (aka North America) she had come to know and love. 

Artist Monkman and writer Gordan’s new book weaves the origin story of Miss Chief into the intertwining histories of the Cree people and the colonization of Canada. True stories of real historical figures are told through the perspective of the imaginary protagonist—a familiar intervention to those already well-versed in Monkman’s prolific painting career. 

Miss Chief has long been a staple in Monkman’s body of work that seeks to challenge canonical representations of North America in the history paintings of 19th-century artists such as George Catlin and Paul Kane. Miss Chief interrupts the reductive colonial gaze through asserting a queer Indigenous subjectivity into Monkman’s historical scenes. 

Monkman and Gordan’s approach to writing Miss Chief’s memoir was largely informed by both of their backgrounds in performance art and film, and the text certainly lends itself to live oration. Listening to Miss Chief verbally recount anecdotal encounters filled with tension and rich, witty dialogue brought Monkman’s paintings to life and tied them all together into a fully developed narrative. 

After Miss Chief’s performance, Monkman sat down with Gordan to discuss the inception of the book project and the enduring process of piecing it all together. The collaborators had spread out prints of all of Monkman’s dynamic paintings and began sorting them into chapters of what would constitute the story of his central character. Monkman remarked how “the memoir became an exercise in filling in the gaps of her story,” and that he hopes to continue developing the life cycle of Miss Chief in future endeavours—perhaps a project inspired by Peter Paul Rubens’ series on the life of Marie de’ Médici at the Louvre Museum.

Volume two of The memoirs of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle: A true and exact accounting of the history of Turtle Island is now available in bookstores starting today, Nov. 28!


A conversation with Kent Monkman

The artist discusses his exhibition and Canadian history

Thousands of people from around the globe tuned in to a Zoom session held on Sept. 26, 2020 to listen to Kent Monkman speak. The interdisciplinary Cree artist is known for his provocative works, which explore themes of sexuality and colonization as a means of retelling contemporary Indigenous experiences.

Presented in partnership with Indspire and the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia, the live discussion covered topics surrounding Indigeneous and Canadian art, reconciliation, and Monkman’s exhibition Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience.

Indspire is a national Indigenous charity that invests in the education of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people. By partnering with Indigenous private and public sector stakeholders, they “educate, connect and invest in First Nations, Inuit and Métis people so they will achieve their highest potential.”

The conversation was mediated by Roberta Jamieson, the President and CEO of Indspire — and the first Indigenous woman to earn a law degree in Canada — and Jennifer Kramer, Curator, at the MOA, whose work focuses on First Nations visual culture and with First Nations on the Pacific Northwest coast.

“I never set out, as an artist, to be an educator, but I certainly found myself stepping into that role with [Shame and Prejudice] because the erasure of these colonial policies was so effective that most Canadians are still in the dark,” said Kent Monkman at the virtual conference.

His exhibition, which was on display at the McCord Museum during the spring of 2019, revisits Canadian and Indigenous history through the eyes of Monkman’s gender-fluid alter-ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. His book of the same name guides readers through the history of New France and the dispossession of Indigenous lands through Canadian colonial policies.

Accompanied by historical artefacts, his paintings and installations reinterpret, and make reference to, a multitude of well-known works, artists, and significant objects. Among his references is Caravaggio’s renowned 1604-06 Death of the Virgin, which depicts the Virgin Mary lying on her deathbed.

In Monkman’s version of the piece, titled Death of the Virgin (After Caravaggio), he swaps the Virgin Mary for a First Nations woman. In his 2016 work, The Daddies, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle poses on an iconic Hudson’s Bay blanket, surrounded by Canada’s founding fathers, leaving the viewer to raise questions about Confederation.

“I wanted to touch on very specific chapters of the last 150 years because so much of the art history told on this continent is told from the settler perspective and the art that’s upheld and hung in our colonial institutions, effectively, is an erased version; it’s like a version that omits Indigenous perspective and Indigenous experience,” said Monkman.

“That was what this project really set out to do, was to canonize and to authorize, into this history of the continent, Indigenous experience, both contemporary and historical.”

A Talk with Kent Monkman is available for viewing on Indspire’s YouTube channel here.


Photos courtesy of Chloë Lalonde


Happening in and around the White Cube this week…

Looking back… what is the White Cube?

Exhibition spaces used to be crammed with art works. Large paintings would collage the walls in Paris’s Salons, where the walls would be any colour but white. The idea of the “contemporary” exhibition space, the White Cube, was developed in the 30s alongside Cubism and the rise of abstract art. In the 60s, artists began to push themselves away from this notion of showing work. Art critic Brian O’Doherty coined the term in 1976, when he published a book titled “Inside the White Cube,” where he described how the thing came to be, giving the cube credit for its ambiguity.

The cube allowed for many developments within the art world, but created entirely new hierarchies. As with anything, it isn’t perfect. And it certainly isn’t for everyone.

My column, the White Cube, has taken a turn too, evolving from Maggie Hope’s weekly “Palette.” The White Cube used to be a list of events happening in alternative and conventional art spaces somehow related to Concordia. Very straightforward, very “White Cube-ish.”

Here and there I used the White Cube to rant, namely about Banksy, and fangirl over meeting Kent Monkman. This year, I made the decision to use the White Cube as a platform for reflection, recounting my experiences in conventional and alternative art spaces to you.

I wrote about paper making and artists I have encountered, about feeling frustrated in my own practice, and my favourite works. I expanded the White Cube in a feature where I investigated financial matters in the industry at Concordia and in local institutions.

The White Cube has become somewhat of an icon to me. I went so far as to get a tattoo of a transparent cube (like those you would draw in elementary school geography) on my ankle. A reminder to stay out of the box, to seek alternative spaces and support grassroots art movements.

I’ve started my own things too, and it’s beginning to get more and more difficult to write from the outside. As I become more involved, my writing comes even more from the heart.

In 2020, I will do my best to focus solely on alternative art experiences in this column, diving into my experience in art education and material culture.


Graphic by Ana Bilokin


Happening in and around the White Cube this week…

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.


Miss Chief Eagle Testickle goes to Europe

Kent Monkman’s work is both beautiful and confrontational. Of mixed Canadian and Cree ancestry, the artist uses painting, video and performance art to help First Peoples ‘discover’ Europe as colonizers ‘discovered’ their land.

The Pierre-François Ouellet art contemporain (PFOAC) gallery exhibits four of Monkman’s video-paintings in The Human Zoo, where Monkman brings his drag queen alter-ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, to Rome, Athens and Berlin.

The Human Zoo imposes Miss Chief Eagle Testickle onto pre-existing European landscapes, including View of the Colonnade by C.W. Eckersberg (1813-16) and The Erechtheion on the Acropolis by Lancelot-Theodore Turpin de Crisse (1805). Monkman uses Miss Chief to embody two-spirit identities among First Peoples, constructing her background as an artist and performer.

The Immoral Woman (2015). Still from video. Photos courtesy of Pierre-François Ouellet art contemporain.

In a description of the exhibition, the PFOAC explained “since the arrival of Europeans in the Americas, Indigenous peoples traveled to Europe as ambassadors for their own people, captives, performers and as specimens for human zoos.”

The Immoral Woman (2015), which is set in Rome, presents seduction within binary and non-binary gender identity. Miss Chief flirts with a young cardinal while studying the Christian passage from John 8:3-11: “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.”

In this passage, Jesus is reminded of the punishment for adultery under the law of Moses, which states that women caught committing adultery will be stoned to death. When a group of accusing scribes and Pharisees heard Jesus’ words, they left the scene one by one. None of the accusers were without sin. When it was finally only Jesus and the adulteress who remained, he said: “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

In a piece set in Athens, Miss Chief paints a young, toned man, while four others drink wine in front of the Acropolis in Athens. PFOAC described this video-painting, titled The Symposium, as “Miss Chief’s homage to the classical artistic, aesthetic and philosophical traditions of ancient Greece.”

In Berlin, Miss Chief performs for her rival, George Catlin, who intends to paint her. Catlin was a 19th century American painter whose focus was on portraits of First Peoples or “Indians” living in the United States. The Human Zoo depicts Miss Chief’s performance anxiety and fear of being exhibited in Catlin’s pop-up gallery in the streets of Berlin behind Freiheit castle.

In all of his work, Monkman put an emphasis on the scarcity of opportunities available for Indigenous peoples and the injustice and inequalities they face everyday.

The exhibition will be open Wednesday to Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain (963 Rachel St. E.) until Nov. 4.

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