Artist Spotlight: Kent Monkman

By Christopher Harrity

Originally published on Advocate.com August 16 2014 3:00 AM ET

Kent Monkman channels his perceptions beautifully into grand landscapes that present allegories of a reimagined past. His past has a much happier, if somewhat saucy result. At first his paintings, sculpture, and performance pieces seem played for laughs, almost a tongue-in-cheek Native American minstrel show — with drag. Then you realize you are laughing at work that addresses the white genocide of Native American societies and the destruction of their culture. His point of view changes rapidly from enraged indigenous person to romantic storyteller to huh art drag queen — sometimes all in the same piece of work. 

Monkman is an artist of Cree ancestry who works in a variety of media, including painting, film/video, performance, and installation. Monkman has exhibited widely in Canada and is well represented in numerous private and public collections, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

See more of Kent Monkman's huge and amazing output on his website.

Four Directions
40" x 30" — 2012
acrylic on canvas
(detail below)

Cree Master 1

10" x 12" — 2002
acrylic on canvas (detail below)

East vs. West
48" x 72" — 2011
acrylic on canvas (detail below)

History Is Painted by the Victors
72" x 113" — 2013
Acrylic on canvas (detail below)

Ceci N’est pas un Pipe
8" x 10" — 2001
acrylic on canvas (detail below)

The Rape of Daniel Boone Junior
18" x 24" — 2002
acrylic on canvas
(detail below)


Les Castors du Roi
96" x 84" — 2011
acrylic on canvas

The Emergence of a Legend (1/5)
4.5" x 6.5" / 16" x 13.25" (framed) — 2006
series of five photographs (chromogenic prints on metallic paper) signed edition of 25 with five proofs, collaboration with photographer Christopher Chapman & makeup artist Jackie Shawn

“The studio portraits, shot, printed, and framed to emulate antique daguerrotypes, feature my alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle in various performance guises. The photos trace the history of Aboriginal performance culture — more specifically 'Indians' performing for a European audience.”

The Emergence of a Legend

The Emergence of a Legend

The Emergence of a Legend

The Emergence of a Legend

Miss America
84" x 132" — 2012
Acrylic on canvas (detail below)

Montcalm's Haircut
48" x 60" — 2011
acrylic on canvas

Wolfe's Haircut
48" x 60" — 2011
acrylic on canvas

My Treaty Is With the Crown
60" x 96" — 2011
Acrylic on canvas (detail below)

Si Je T’aime Prends Garde à Toi (Study for Icon for a New Empire)
36" x 24" — 2007
acrylic on canvas

Tall Tails
installation — 2007
The Triumph of Mischief
touring exhibition

Tall Tails is an installation with sound (music) that references Monkman’s performance work. Fashion, as a signifier of cultural change, is a recurring theme Monkman explores in various media. The costume on the mannequin is one of three successively larger and more outlandish headresses worn by Monkman (as Miss Chief) during the performance Séance.

Right-click to download "Dance to Miss Chief (Dwayne Minard Cellout Remix).mp3"

Photo: Walter Willems

The Symposium
67" x 47.5" — 2012
acrylic on canvas (detail below)

Two Kindred Spirits
Multi Media Installation — 2012

Based on similarities found between fictitious American and German buddy characters, Tonto and the Lone Ranger, and Winnetou and Old Shatterhand, this multimedia installation explores male warrior/lover relationships found in the Greek myths of Achilles and Patrocles and Apollo and Hyacinthus.

Two Kindred Spirits (detail)

Two Kindred Spirits (detail)

"We Agreed to Share, Not Surrender"
18.5" x 10.5" — 2011
Archival Giclee Print

Faint Heart 534
12" x 9" — 2008
watercolor on paper

Faint Heart 9,273
12" x 9" — 2008
watercolor on paper

Louis Vuitton Quiver
installation — 2007

Monkman has used the Louis Vuitton brand to refer to social hierarchies and monopolies of class, power, and wealth, established by trade among Europeans and Native Americans. Monkman has fashioned faux “Louis Vuitton” birch bark luggage (Boudoir de Berdashe) and an arrow quiver (Shooting Geronimo) that Miss Chief has worn in live performances and films.

Photo: Brian Boyle