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At the Met, Cree artist Kent Monkman asks visitors to confront North America's murderous past – The Globe and Mail

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The Newcomers, 2019, for The Great Hall Commission: Kent Monkman, mistikosiwak (Wooden Boat People), 2019.

Courtesy of the artis/Anna-Marie Kellen/Metropolitan Museum of Art/Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Cree artist Kent Monkman stood under the soaring ceiling of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Great Hall this week wielding a laser pointer. With its beam, he indicated historical characters on the huge canvas behind him, stopping briefly on the figure of a beaver with an olive branch in its mouth as he decoded his latest painting for the assembled media. Europeans came to this continent seeking beaver pelts, he reminded them.

Toronto-resident Monkman, a member of Manitoba’s Fisher River Band, is one of a trio of international artists given an unusual assignment by America’s pre-eminent museum: The Met has asked them to address its encyclopedic collection by creating new art for its most prominent spaces. So, in the museum’s vast but always bustling front hall, Monkman takes the bull by the horns with a pair of canvases that cleverly appropriate Western history painting to expose romantic myths about Indigenous people. He is asking the Met and its many visitors to confront North America’s murderous colonial history – as Canada tries exporting Indigenous perspectives and the hope of reconciliation to the United States.

Borrowing the heroic poses and dramatic expressions from history paintings in the Met’s collection, Monkman calls his project mistikosiwak (Wooden Boat People), extending the Cree word for the French to include, by implication, all European settlers. The work is a diptych, depicting the arrival of Europeans in North America on the left and the resilience of contemporary Indigenous culture on the right. The first painting features a group of shipwrecked Europeans clambering onto a rocky shore where Indigenous characters variously welcome or repulse them. The second shows a boat paddled by contemporary Indigenous figures while two African-Americans pull white people from the water as though rescuing migrants from the Mediterranean. On a rock in the distance, armed men flash the white-power symbol and wave their guns.

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Kent Monkman, (Canadian, b. 1965). Resurgence of the People, 2019.

Joseph Hartman/Metropolitan Museum of Art/Metropolitan Museum of Art

These paintings, created by a team of 10 painters under Monkman’s direction and based on photo shoots that employed about 40 models and actors, represent the artist’s increasingly sophisticated deployment of a revisionist history painting. As he resurrects the genre once considered the pinnacle of Western art before it was displaced by modernism, he exposes 19th-century history painting’s assumptions about North America as an empty continent ready for exploitation and Indigenous people as a noble but tragically disappearing breed.

”Here is this incredible vocabulary that I felt could be very relevant to speak about Indigenous experience both historical and contemporary,” he said in an interview at the Met this week. “It has been a way for me to engage with a very complex and sophisticated language of image-making and it ties into those themes of erasure that were present in the 19th-century [art]. Those themes have been supported and upheld by museums because they canonized that work.”

But no longer. As Monkman unveiled his paintings in a symbolically charged place – the entry point to the Met’s sprawling, global collection at the heart of a city that is a magnet for both tourists and migrants – Met leaders talked about the need to expand the stories the museum tells.

“Museums can no longer maintain a position of neutrality,” said Sheena Wagstaff, head of the Met’s modern and contemporary art department, as she launched into a rare land acknowledgement: Manhattan is Manahatta and traditional territory of the Lenape or Delaware nation.

As Cree artist Kent Monkman unveiled his paintings in a symbolically charged place, Met leaders talked about the need to expand the stories the museum tells.

Anna-Marie Kellen/Metropolitan Museum of Art/Metropolitan Museum of Art

As part of the current contemporary project, the Met has also mounted four striking female bronze figures by the Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu in niches on the façade of its 1902 Beaux Arts building, the first time art has ever been placed there. The third participant in this program is the Icelandic multidisciplinary artist Ragnar Kjartansson, who mounted an immersive video installation in the courtyard of the museum’s Robert Lehman wing last summer.

Both of Monkman’s paintings in the Great Hall include something of a self-portrait: The central figure of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, the artist’s gender-fluid trickster alter ego (whose memoir he is currently writing.) In the first painting, she is the one figure who looks directly at you as Monkman turns the tables on viewers of Western art, subjecting them to the Indigenous gaze. In the second painting, she stands at the prow of the boat, her pose directly borrowed from that of George Washington in the Met’s most popular American painting: Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware.

Monkman continuously adapts and undercuts these historical antecedents. He takes Eugène Delacroix’s The Natchez, in which the French artist depicted a Natchez couple and their new-born baby as the last of their kind, and purges the painting of its melancholic irony. Monkman’s first painting shows the couple joyfully welcoming new life; in the second, the parents are two women. Similarly, the figure of Mexican Girl Dying, a 19th-century sculpture by the American artist Thomas Crawford, has become a woman who appears to be in the throes of orgasm rather than death. Meanwhile, a group of Indigenous children in the boat was inspired by the biblical subject The Massacre of the Innocents, but their cropped hair is a reference to the residential schools where they were forced to assimilate.

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More than three metres high and almost seven metres wide, the paintings are not Monkman’s largest; that honour still belongs to Miss Chief’s Wet Dream in the collection of the Nova Scotia Art Gallery. But they do represent his most sophisticated work yet. Where once the politics of his interventions might seem obvious – for Canada 150, he simply inserted Miss Chief into a familiar painting of the Fathers of Confederation – here his mastery of the Met’s collection lifts his art. The result is a complex iconography stuffed with references to historic art, Indigenous culture and contemporary politics as Monkman beats Western history painting at its own game.

Initiated by Met curator Randall Griffey, mistikosiwak has developed into a stealthy Canadian attempt to insert Indigenous perspectives deeper into the American cultural consciousness, long dominated by the troubled legacy of slavery.

“In Canada, museums are further ahead in engaging with Indigenous perspectives,” Monkman said. “There’s a huge difference: They are about a generation behind here. It’s a big moment for the Met to offer diversified perspectives.”

That was part of what attracted contributions from Canadian philanthropists Rosamond Ivey, and Marilyn and Charles Baillie, all of whom were already supporters of the Met and helped finance this project.

“It was a huge opportunity for Kent’s career and recognition for Canada’s artistic community,” Ivey said. “And the message is not really Canadian, it’s North American.”

The first of the millions who will see the paintings over the next four months got a look Tuesday as the media took their leave and the Met’s massive front doors opened to the public. The paintings hang immediately overhead at the coat-check queues, so visitors have plenty of time to consider them. Some began debating their merits and pointing out figures to each other from below. Others gazed up in silence, seemingly amazed.

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mistikosiwak (Wooden Boat People) is on show at The Metropolitan Museum in New York until April 9.

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How Kent Monkman works

In 2017, reporter Dakshana Bascaramurty and photojournalist Melissa Tait got an inside look at the process behind Kent Monkman’s work. Watch their video documentary, or click below to read the story.

From the archives: Kent Monkman, the modern touch of a master

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Art exhibit captures memories of a changing landscape through COVID-19 pandemic – NiagaraFallsReview.ca

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We began lockdown toward the end of winter; still cold, we stayed inside. As spring opened up to possibilities, many of us took to the outdoors, walking our only contact with the broader community, awkward though those encounters might be, hailing neighbours at a careful distance.

Alliston, Ont., artist Gary Evans has been creating throughout the pandemic; some of his paintings are now being shown in an exhibition titled “Daylight” at the Paul Petro gallery in Toronto.

He, too, experienced the strangeness of the world and the way he was moving in it, differently. “Avoiding the few people out there and really relishing the freshness of the air and changing conditions of the spring, the walks and sights of the town and surrounding landscape became the subject of paintings,” he says. “I found myself trying to express the different textures of the landscape, capture a mood and witness change on a daily basis.”

A fence. A tree changing shape and the changing light.

“Intersections of architecture and nature always seem to catch my eye, and the painting ‘Alley’ is based on the view of a neighbour’s fence that runs beside a parking lot and an arena building. The small maples that peek over the fence mark the space or distance between the viewer and architecture.”

“Often I will start to paint an actual image, then slowly add marks and imaginative or abstract patterns and colours to complete the image in a more expressive and personal manner. I’m trying to create a dialogue between our inner world of feeling and subjective reality and the generic landscape we inhabit together.”

And now, we enter fall. The days shorter, the air crisper, the shadows longer. We’ll observe more carefully, wanting to etch moments in our mind. Some we’ll want to remember clearly, some framed, perhaps, with simply a sense of colours and lines and feelings. Memories to sustain us through a long winter indoors.

You can see the entire exhibition at the Paul Petro Contemporary Art gallery at paulpetro.com.

Deborah Dundas

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10-year-old Anishinaabe photographer makes art show debut at skatepark exhibition – CBC.ca

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Ella Greyeyes came across photography by accident, when she filled in for a photographer who was supposed to take her dad’s headshot, but cancelled at the last minute.

The 10-year-old was instantly hooked. She started snapping more pictures: some of her mom, others of nature scenes. Her parents posted them on Instagram and Ella soon drew the attention of local artist Annie Beach, who suggested Ella get involved with Lavender Menace, a mentorship opportunity that will culminate in an art show at The Plaza skatepark at The Forks.

“I’m feeling really excited and just happy that I’m going to have my photos at The Forks,” Ella told CBC’s Weekend Morning Show host Nadia Kidwai on Sunday. “When people see my photos, I hope they feel joy in them.”

For Ella, photography was a new way to see the world around her.

“When I see something, I just like to frame it,” she said. “And I love to take pictures of nature. It just feels so good and relaxing.”

The photo Ella took of her dad, Alan Greyeyes, that kicked off her budding photography career. (Ella Greyeyes)

The show organized by Graffiti Art Programming gets its name from a term rooted in the American lesbian women’s movement for inclusion within feminism, said Chanelle Lajoie, a Métis artist who mentored Ella ahead of Sunday night’s opening reception. Lajoie said Lavender Menace was a chance to create space for Indigenous people and learn from each other.

“Working with Ella provided for me that intergenerational knowledge-sharing, because it was very much reciprocated on both ends,” Lajoie said. 

“Ella really enjoying taking photography of nature … seemed [to] really fit well with the project of providing natural elements to a predominantly concrete space, and so it was a really perfect fit.”

Ella — who is Anishinaabe from Peguis First Nation and lives in Winnipeg — said she learned so much about photography from Lajoie, from how to use the different settings on her camera to how to make a person comfortable in front of her lens.

“You have to be happy when you take them,” she said. “You have to take them with some joy, because then it will make the person, the model, feel really good and smile and not be grumpy in every photo.”

Ella took this photo of her mom, Destiny Seymour. (Ella Greyeyes)

Lajoie said the show at The Forks is meant to start a conversation about representation of Indigenous, LGBT and two-spirit people in a space so deeply rooted in Indigenous histories.

“That conversation will include us. It’ll bring up some uncomfortable realities. [But] our representation is also going to encourage inclusion and build community further,” she said. 

“So I hope anyone who is at the show, whether it’s tonight or in the future, if they’re having difficulty seeking out their queer selves or their Indigenous selves, that they see this and see themselves in us.”

The Lavender Menace group art exhibition launches Sunday at 5 p.m. The event will run until 7 p.m., though the art will stay until next year.

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POLICE BRIEFS: Fatal crashes, high-end art stolen – The North Bay Nugget

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North Bay rider dies in ATV crash

Ontario Provincial Police say the rider from North Bay was pronounced deceased at the scene of a single vehicle all-terrain vehicle crash on a snowmobile trail in Phelps Township at noon Saturday.

The collision occurred when the ATV veered off the trail.

The investigation is continuing with the assistance of the Office of the Chief Coroner, an OPP Traffic Collision Investigator (TTCI) and a Collision Reconstructionist. A post-mortem examination is scheduled to take place Tuesday.

More information will be released when available.

Motorcycle rider dies in crash

Ontario Provincial Police say the rider was pronounced deceased at the scene of a single vehicle motorcycle crash on Highway 518, near Forestry Road, in Kearney at 11 am Saturday.

OPP say the motorcycle left the roadway.

The investigation is continuing with the assistance of the North East Region OPP Traffic Incident Management and Enforcement (TIME) Team.

More information will be released when available.

Highway 518 has reopened.

One person was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries following a single-vehicle collision on the same highway, near Kallio Road, at 4 am Saturday.

Two other people suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

The investigation is continuing with the assistance of the North East Region OPP Traffic Incident Management and Enforcement (TIME) Team.

More information will be released when available.

High-end art stolen in North Bay

North Bay police are investigating the theft of high-end art from a residence on Silver Lady Lane, off Trout Lake, early Saturday.

The stolen items include a 2’x3′ Jan Van Kessel painting, Limoges casket, 6″ blue/gold plate and 6″ aventurine brush washer.

Please call with any information.

Anyone with information that may assist police with this breakin can call the North Bay Police Service at 705-497-5555 and select option 9 to speak to an officer.

Car kicker gets a date in court

A Sturgeon Falls man faces charges after OPP responded to two mischief complaints on John Street at 12:45 pm Sept. 16.
OPP allege the accused was seen kicking two vehicles, causing excessive damage.
The 32-year-old faces charges of mischief under $5,000 and mischief over $5,000. He is to appear in North Bay court Nov. 10.

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