Biography of Kent Monkman Artist
Kent Monkman is a Canadian born artist and filmmaker. He was born in1965 in Ontario and rose to become one of the most successful and influential artists of all times. Kent was of mixed descent, and this influenced his art pieces and perception of the world. His career as an artist began at an early age, and this explains his interest in commercial art at the age of 17. Kent studied in Sheridan College, Banff Centre for the Arts, Sundane Institute in Los Angeles among other Canadian and American Institutions (“BIOGRAPHY — Kent Monkman” n.p). After his education, Kent worked as a set and costume designer before settling as a full-time artist.
Kent was Cree but grew up in Manitoba, and this led to feelings of alienation. As a member of the indigenous population, Kent was dispossessed and alienated by the First Nations culture and beliefs. His art is provocative because it elicits emotions and intervention for art from different regions of the world and borrows from the various periods of the European and American history. Kent’s art is a reflection of his childhood experiences as it explores colonization, loss, and historical and contemporary experiences of the indigenous people. As an artist, Kent uses different media to showcase his art, and they include painting and films. His attraction to romanticism is associated with the artists Edward Church and Thomas Cole who painted the 19th-century landscapes on romance (“BIOGRAPHY — Kent Monkman” n.p). Also, the romanticization and idealization of First Nations culture and life were of interest to Kent who drew inspiration from Cornelius Krieghoff and other artists of the time. Kent’s interest in art was inspired by his art mentors and admirers as well as his experiences as an indigenous citizen of Canada.
Kent’s artwork is described as traditional because his techniques and performance are a reflection of the indigenous heritage. Also, as part of the indigenous alienation, Kent’s work focuses on the national history and gay rights. As part of his artistic expression, Kent adopts an alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, which enables him to take a trickster’s persona. The alter ego allows him to overcome human perception, judgment, and expectations. Kent is inspired by an American Painter who uses art to project sympathy to the indigenous people using art. His paintings and alter ego are used comically to recreate the Canadian landscape and different narratives within the culture. Kent’s representation of homosexuality was humorous. The First Nations culture was suppressive, and homosexuality was unacceptable in society (Bingham par 4). Thus, his utilization of humor and irony exposes the level of white dominance to the indigenous population.
Moreover, Kent’s unique style involves the disruption of Hollywood and other western stereotypes in film and illustrates the indigenous experience in Canada. Kent’s silent film, Shooting Geronimo, is a recreation of the colonial history and experiences of the indigenous people. He rewrites and restages the past, different landscapes as part of reliving history. Colonial perceptions shape the aboriginal philosophies (Scudeler 24). For example, the indigenous dance was perceived as threatening to the colonialist and its reenactment is a recollection of the past and a way of changing the overall judgment on the indigenous culture.
An overview of Canadian history indicates that the indigenous communities faced great oppression and other acts of injustice. The Sixties Scoop was an action by the colonialists to adopt aboriginal children. The removal of indigenous children from their parents was an act of oppression; thus, Kent’s art piece, The Scream, illustrates the removal of children in Canada. The Scream is meant to illustrate the emotional devastation the indigenous families faced during the forced removal (McGillis par 7). Thus, Kent’s art represents the different issues affecting the indigenous population.
Figure 1: The Scream
Another piece of art is Lot’s Wife, which Kent uses to portray the effects of family dispossession to him. Also, the art piece is a reflection of Christian values and the aspect of “two-spirits” of humanity. The piece is a metaphor as it uses the biblical illustration of Lot and his family to portray the effect of the white culture and belief on the indigenous population. The indigenous people were compared to the Biblical Canaanites who were subjected to mass destruction due to their waywardness. The cause of destruction is God’s wrath over gayism and other sexual sins, and Lot’s wife acted in defiance thus turned into a pillar of salt. The element of “two-spiritness” in Kent’s world is illustrated through historical experiences and his perception of gender and sexuality (Scudeler27). The painting illustrates the looming uncertainty in the lives of the indigenous communities and the influence of Christianity to his art.
Figure 2: Lot’s Wife
Message and Cause behind Kent’s Paintings
Kent’s paintings are part of his expose on Canadian history and his life experiences as a Swampy Cree and of mixed sexuality. The indigenous communities and leaders were part of the historical injustices such as land dispossession and other colonial acts. The Subjugation of Truth painting indicates the value of truth to the colonial masters in Canada. The characters in the art are chained to show the level of oppression and their inability to influence the decisions made at the panel. The painting contains figures such as Cree Chiefs Poundmaker and Big Bear. These two are under duress to sign land treaties meant to “save their tribes.” The painting is subjugation of truth since the chiefs are coerced to sign, and Kent uses humor to represent his sensitive topic in the history of Canada and the indigenous people. The comic aspect is illustrated by Kent’s alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, in the portrait on the wall disguised as Queen Victoria (McGillis par 3). The message in the painting is the constant oppression of the indigenous leaders; the suppression of their voices into giving up their ancestral land. The inclusion of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle is Kent’s bid to include the original voice into the negotiation
Figure 3: Subjugation of Truth
Kent’s painting, The Daddies, is a recreation of the 1884 Fathers of Confederation art by Robert Harris. The picture represents an essential meeting by the British delegates in North America, and its focus was to settle the terms for the confederation. The confederation was a significant part of colonialism in Canada, and its deliberations affected the indigenous communities negatively. In the painting, Kent’s alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, takes center stage among the delegates. The portrait of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle is naked and dressed in high heels. The picture is meant to subvert the authentic portrayal of the convention and introduces the aspect of queerness as part of Canadian history (Whyte par 7). Thus, Kent’s paintings represent the historical issues and personal touch to the element of culture.
Figure4: The Daddies as a recreation of the Fathers of Confederation (1884)
The 150 Canadian Celebrations
The 150 anniversary of Canada was marked by historical, artistic, and other cultural events that sought to illustrate the evolution of the nation and the indigenous communities in Canada. An art exhibition that marked Kent’s involvement in the celebration duped Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience sought to illustrate Canada, its history, and the experiences before the confederation. The exhibition was meant to recreate real and imagined events in Canada to expose the level of suffering, shame, and prejudice that the indigenous communities underwent before independence (Whyte par 7). The 150 celebration of Canada was a significant time for the nation and the indigenous population since it highlighted the historical narratives and injustices. Moreover, Kent’s stories and art did not fit into the national narrative and essence of the celebration. However, he was determined to create space for his art and its representation through visual images and comic. His exhibition was presented at the University of Toronto, and it was a provocative representation of Canadian nationalism, the aboriginal experiences, and the tragic past (Everett-Green par 3). Thus, the involvement of Kent in the 150 celebrations was a means of rooting out the myths and showing the truth about indigenous experiences.
Kent’s Work and Current Contemporary Indigenous Experience, the Impact of Colonization, and the Relationship between Indigenous Communities and Colonizing Powers
Kent’s art, paintings, and films have been recognized internationally as they satirically and comically bring historical narratives to life. The Canadian story is bitter, and the life and experiences of Kent as a Swampy Cree and queer sexuality represent the indigenous history and experiences. His art influences contemporary indigenous experiences by exposing the uniqueness of culture and traditions. Also, the art ironically discloses the actions of the colonizer thus affecting the colonial philosophies in the world (McGillis par 3). The contemporary influence in Kent’s artwork is evident in history and gender topics that are fluid in most societies. The inclusion of urban aspects in the art brings about a shift in worldviews.
Moreover, Kent’s work focused on themes such as colonization and its effect on the community. Christianity was part of the colonial influences and it helped to shape the traditional landscape and history of Canada. Thus, his art focuses on challenging the stereotypic images painted by the Europeans. The art’s satirical element was an act of mockery to the subjective perception and narrative of the indigenous population. Thus, Kent’s artwork exposes the impact of colonization on the indigenous communities, for example, The Subjugation of Truth is an act of oppression (Whyte par 7). Also, the artwork seeks to reveal the nature of the relationship between indigenous communities and colonizing powers.
Kent’s art brings a contemporary outlook to Canadian history and indigenous experiences. He utilizes art, painting, and film among other forms of theatricals to communicate his feelings towards past and present indigenous experiences. Also, he uses art to castigate the colonialists’ ideologies and subjective view of the indigenous population. Kent’s art is provocative and often involves the alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, to introduce satire in his work. There are a variety of art pieces, paintings, and exhibitions targeted towards indigenous experiences. For example, The Scream illustrates the separation of children from their aboriginal parents, which was a colonialist method of assimilating their culture into the indigenous communities.
Bingham, Rusell. “Kent Monkman.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2013, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/kent-monkman.
“BIOGRAPHY — Kent Monkman.” Kent Monkman, www.kentmonkman.com/biography.
Everett-Green, Robert. “Kent Monkman: A Trickster with a Cause Crashes Canada’s 150th Birthday party.” The Globe and Mail, 12 Nov. 2017, www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/canada-150/kent-monkman-shame-and-prejudice/article33515775/.
McGillis, Ian. “Kent Monkman’s Irreverent Art Turns the Canadian Narrative on Its Head.” Montreal Gazette, 14 Feb. 2019, montrealgazette.com/entertainment/local-arts/kent-monkmans-irreverent-art-turns-the-canadian-narrative-on-its-head.
Scudeler, June. “Indians on Top”: Kent Monkman’s Sovereign Erotics.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal, vol. 39, no. 4, 2015, pp. 19-32.
Whyte, Murray. “Kent Monkman Fills in the Blanks in Canadian History.” Thestar.com, 22 Jan. 2017, www.thestar.com/entertainment/visualarts/2017/01/22/kent-monkman-fills-in-historys-blanks-with-humour-and-horror.html.
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