Thursday, September 9, 2010

Kent Monkman - The Triumph of Mischief

Detail of Artist and Model
I am writing this away from the prying eyes of Priscilla-the-fleeceless-sheep-that-rules-the-guestroom-and-Lords-over-my-wool-stash. I am not sure she would appreciate the explicit language and pictures of this particular post. She is a bit of a prude. So I will be quick to get it up before she has an inkling of the sexually explicit (and I won't even show you all the details, but use a magnifying glass on the picture to the left) work of this artist and his alter ego.

Monkman's Cher-inspired seance outfit.
I went to a thought-provoking art exhibit by Cree artist Kent Monkman at the Victoria Art Gallery. Monkman has, a wicked sense of humour and of injustice, a subversive wit and his work playing on role reversals, forces us to re-think, re-image, some of our underlying assumptions, stereotypes and visions of reality about the imaginary indian, painted by the noble whiteman.  

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. In Monkman's paintings a picture is worth 10,0000 words, layers of meanings on top of layers. He is also a performance artist, check out his seance held at the ROM calling on the spirits of explorer-artists Paul Kane, George Caitlin and French romantic painter Delacroix, while dressed in a, reportedly, Cher-inspired drag queen attire, also in the exhibit. Click here to listen to the dance music of MissChief. The seance was in response to one of his paintings being censored from the First People's Gallery at the ROM. As Monday Magazine explains it:
“They gave us the opportunity to go into the museum, look at the collections and then create work as a response. I went straight to the First People’s Gallery and there you have all these paintings by Paul Kane, this voice of authority. It’s like, ‘What are his paintings doing in the First People’s Gallery?’ Yes, the first people were his subjects, but . . . I thought, ‘I’ll do a painting in response to one of his paintings,’” says Monkman. “I wanted to draw attention to that and hang my painting in there with his painting. So the curator of the First People’s Gallery said, ‘No, we can not allow Kent to show in the First People’s Gallery. We can not allow him to challenge the work of Paul Kane.’”
The Academy
which brought on the seance performance and brought about the ROMs re-thinking of just what should be allowed in the First Nation's Gallery.
In this exhibit, the star of this show is Monkman's alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testicle -- say this fast enough and you have Mischief Egotistical Did I say that Monkman is a master of punning? In the painting titled "The Artist and Model" above, Monkman has painted his alter ego right into the painting. Miss Chief Eagle Testicle (aka Mischief), wearing six-inch heels, a scanty breech, a Chiefs head dress and little else, is the artist painting the naked (penis erect) cowboy. However, Mischief's easel holds a pictograph of her idea of what the white man looks like. See what I mean about layers upon layers of words and meanings.
The picture "The Academy" reminded me of Paul Kane's picture "Clallum Woman Weaving a Blanket". I am not sure that Monkman's Academy was meant to be a reVisionist view of Kane's painting, but there are some similarities, the wool dog in the foreground (see my earlier blog on this painting), the scene in the long house, the viewing of artists creating their works.
In any event, Monkman's imagery will remain with me for a long time.
This post seems to be very popular, so I have edited to add a book if you like Kent Monkman's sense of humour as well as his art, then you would probably enjoy this book. It is written by one of my favorite authors, Thomas King who also has a wicked sense of humour and of injustice. Okay, you need to know it is written for children, but hey, read it for your inner child.

"A Woman Weaving a Blanket," Songhees/Saanich (Central Coast Salish)

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