Biennale of Sydney 2010 – Kent Monkman

Biennale of Sydney 2010 – Kent Monkman

Photo by Brendon Thorne

Death of Adonis

In his multifaceted work, Toronto based painter, photographer, performance and video installation artist Kent Monkman deals a table-turning hand on the one-sided histories of Euro-American descent.

The Death of Adonis (2009), one of four new paintings showing at the M.C.A. is an allegory of environmental and colonial despoliation and depicts a buffalo hunting scene. Miss Chief cradles in her arms the figure of a white man who has apparently been killed in the pursuit, while a cowboy on a horse, butted by a survivor from a massacre of buffalos, shoots an accidental bullet into a fellow horsemen riding hot on his heels.

Using parody and his flamboyant alter-ego ‘Miss Chief Eagle Testickle’, he subtly turns pioneering myths of the American West into orgiastic revisions of nineteenth-century pastoral scenes. By appropriating the imagery and technique of ‘New World’ landscape painters, and by reversing the usual roles of cowboys and Indians, Monkman questions not only history, but also notions of authenticity and identity. He goes back in time to ‘queer the frontier’.

Seance performance 2007 – Royal Ontario Museum

Through oil paintings, sculptural pieces, films, video and photography, Monkman creates an “Old West” as a land of cross-dressing and role-swapping play between “cowboys and Indians” and at the centre of this work is Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. Miss Chief Eagle Testickle (punning “mischief” and “egotistical”) is Kent Monkman’s performance-art alter ego and she also appears in many of Monkman’s paintings and sculptural pieces.


I drew inspiration from these contemporary and historical events to fashion a beautiful body bag, in the shape of a bison hide, from a queen-size red Hudson Bay blanket and a life-size image of myself as the Berdashe — Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. By making the body bag into an object of exquisite beauty, I give a transcendent and resilient response to a long history of violence directed toward First Nations. If Health Canada is shipping us Aboriginals body bags, then I want to design my own Queen-Size Body Bag!

In a mischievous and humourous manner, Kent Monkman’s art challenges the inherent stereotypes around sexuality and identity, the legacy of colonialism and narratives about Aboriginal culture in the history of art and popular culture. Behind Monkman’s art lies a deep knowledge of past images and iconography, both European and Aboriginal.

Kent Monkman, Group of Seven Inches (film still), 2005

With clever racial role reversals & historical revisionist satire, Kent Monkman skewers depictions of Indians in early 20th-century silent movies & studio portraits.

Canadian Cree Kent Monkman is a prolific artist whose lighthearted paintings, performance art, super-8 movies, antique tintypes, multimedia presentations, & mixed media installations poke fun at racist Hollywood depictions of First Nations people in art and movies. Monkman reverses the roles in the caricaturized cowboys-&-Indians scenario so that it is the ‘Indian’ whose insists on capturing ‘the European Male’ in images before he disappeared forever, as though they were peculiar scientific specimens.

Monkman’s satirical work focuses scrutiny on cultural filters. To this purpose, he created a public performance persona (inspired by popstar Cher) of a very flamboyant drag queen. In her maribou and dyed feather war bonnet, beaded and open-toed stiletto mocassins, dreamcatcher bra/breastplate and Louis Vuitton quiver, Miss Chief swans over Monkman’s visual narratives that completely revise the traditional white view of North American history.

“I have for many years contemplated the race of the white man who are now spread over their trackless forests and boundless prairies and I have flown to their rescue, that phoenix like, they may rise from the stain on a painter’s palette, and live forever with me on my canvas.” — Miss Chief’s soliloquy from Robin’s Hood.

Monkman draws upon every method and material used to not only record the exploration and settlement of North America, but often to contrive folk stories about it and romanticize the people, places and customs beyond all semblance to reality, usually for exploitive purposes.

Kent Monkman was born in 1965 in Winnipeg and raised in a family mix of Swampy Cree and English-Irish descent.

He is an accomplished and original painter, filmmaker and performance artist, based in Toronto, where he has lived for the past 20 years.

1 Comment

  1. viktor vijay - March 18, 2011

    Colonialism and slavery literally decimated cultures and races from across the world. From Americas, to Africa to Asia no country remained unharmed and only people–the Western European white racists were responsible for it. Even today many wear under their skin racist and religious superiority garment. The false Humanism of the mythic European Renaissance was grounded and drew succour from brutal exploitation, indentured labour, slavery, Colonial loot and deprecation of ‘other’ religions and belief systems of the colonized. The hegemonic portrayal of superiority of ‘Renaissance’, ‘modern’ and contemporary Western art by West is based on this residual memory of racism, slavery and colonialism.
    Monkman’s art therefore is topical to bring back the guilt and shame of Colonial past.
    “If I had to choose between an erudite Aristotle and an unknown ‘soulless’ black slave I would choose the latter.”
    excerpts from book ‘Mona Lisa does not smile anymore’ (ISBN 978-81-8465-512-4)

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