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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