A lot of ink has been spilled about the upcoming (and ongoing) Canada 150 art projects that are set to inject a little more vibrancy into the country’s art scene, but not everyone knows that one of the most confronting (it’s sexual, violent and funny) exhibits (one with a Brampton connection, no less) is already making its mark in the country.
Kent Monkman, a Winnipeg-born artist who actually graduated from the Brampton-based Sheridan College illustration program in 1986, is the artist and curator behind Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience–a traveling Canada 150 exhibit that features stunning and memorable paintings that depict, in detail that’s both humorous and confronting, aspects of Native American experience in Canada.
The exhibit, which is currently running at University of Toronto Art Museum in Toronto (it will wrap up on Sunday, March 5), is completely free to attend and offers visitors a memorable and intense look colonialism and struggle through the eyes of Monkman’s alter ego, a non-gender conforming figure named Miss Chief Eagle Testickle.
Miss Chief Eagle Testickle bears a striking but distinctly feminized resemblance to the half-Cree artist himself and her transgressive outfits (especially those sheer pants paired with sky-high Louboutin heels) and occasional nudity provide some much-welcome levity to grand paintings–often inspired by classic works–depicting poverty, chaos and violence.
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The project, with begins with a unique nativity piece and ends with a cheeky installation modelled after Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s The Swing, takes viewers on a journey that’s both emotional and amusing. Starting with more modern pieces depicting a surreal (and brilliantly Picasso-inspired, in some instances) and bleak urban Winnipeg and ending with historical looks at the fur trade and subsequent loss of innocence, the exhibit takes viewers back in time and encourages them to see the present as a result of the past.
The pieces, though serious, are thrilling to look at. Fusing classic images and imagery with modern sexuality, Monkman easily pairs angels and cherubs with exquisitely drawn fornicating bears (bears having their way with scandalously-clad European men, no less). Although the descriptions sound strange on paper, the paintings are astounding in their detail and impressive in their content.
They’re provocative to be sure (transgressive, even), but never alienating. They’re not intended to shock audiences in a cheap or sexy way. There’s something almost playful about them, but that playfulness–used sparsely and sometimes bitingly–invites the viewer to look, linger and contemplate the roles Natives and settlers have played in Canada’s history.
It’s an exhibit that expertly pairs confrontational images of violence and homoerotic dominance with historical pieces to tell a truly Canadian story about the impact of systemic oppression on people who continue to carry the trauma of past generations (and suffer unique traumas of their own).
Whether you’re looking at horrific images of Native children being ripped from their parent’s arms to be taken to residential schools or absurd paintings of Natives and Europeans slaughtering heaven-bound beavers (the slaughter of innocents ,indeed), you’re feeling a connected to a history too often ignored.
While there are no doubt many exciting Canada 150 exhibits ahead, it’ll be hard for one to top the brilliance of this one.
The exhibit wraps this weekend, so take a trip to TO to enjoy the exhibit while you still can.
For more info (and to look at much more sexually daring pieces), click here.