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Kent Monkman's subversive art creates a counter-narrative of Indigenous experience – CBC.ca

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This episode originally aired on April 19, 2016.

The work of Kent Monkman is always arresting — whether it’s a lush landscape, an immersive mixed-media installation, or a vivid performance. At centre stage is his flamboyant, two-spirit artistic persona, Miss Chief, or “mischief” — a kind of trickster figure in drag, through which Monkman challenges the representation of Indigenous people in Western art. 

Monkman was born in 1965 to a mother of English and Irish descent and a Cree father. He grew up in Winnipeg, where he strongly identified with his Indigenous roots. His work is exhibited in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and the Vancouver Art Gallery. Through the summer of 2022, he has exhibitions at the National Gallery of Canada and at the Royal Ontario Museum in the fall.

Monkman spoke to Eleanor Wachtel in Toronto in 2016.

Detail of a painting by Kent Monkman. Painted in a realistic style, two figures appear at centre, floating in the heavens. The figure at left is a male figure with long black flowing hair wearing flowing pink and white fabric and black pumps. They appear to float on a cloud. At right, another humanoid figure clothed in draped fabric, but with the head and tail of a snarling coyote.
Detail of a painting by Kent Monkman. (Kent Monkman)

Inspiring and troubling

“I grew up in River Heights in Winnipeg in the 1970s, which was predominantly non-Native. So all of my classmates were Anglo-Saxon kids. I’d go to the Manitoba Museum, which had a display of life-size dioramas. They still have them. They’re fascinating to look at because they are representative of Indigenous cultures in this sort of pre-contact time capsule.

It was inspiring to see this idyllic representation of First Nations cultures. But you would step outside the museum and there on Main Street was Skid Row.

“There’s a bison hunt that’s as realistic as you can get in terms of a museum diorama. It was inspiring to see this idyllic representation of First Nations cultures. But you would step outside the museum and there on Main Street was Skid Row. You have the fallout of colonization and people that have been damaged through colonization.

“I remember my classmates would ask me, ‘What happened to your people?’ Because I was First Nations and I just could not answer that question. I didn’t have the language.

“I didn’t know how to reconcile what was in the museum and what had happened and what was on the streets of Winnipeg at that time.” 

The Rise and Fall of Civilization | Mixed Media Installation – 2015 | Gardiner Museum (Jimmy Limit)

Mixed mediums

“I’m not a trained sculptor, so I basically work with the figure sculpture or the figure mannequin. I’m not trying to make classical or beautiful figure sculptures. I’m using those cheesy, tacky, human mannequins that are used to represent people in dioramas and then trying to create an environment that simulates a natural environment.

I’m using the components that are present in dioramas to make an art piece that feels like a diorama — a life-sized figure’s furniture or animals — and using those to challenge some of the representations of First Nations people.

“Or it could also actually be an interior setting, but the idea is that I’m using the components that are present in dioramas to make an art piece that feels like a diorama — a life-sized figure’s furniture or animals — and using those to challenge some of the representations of First Nations people.”

Triumph of Miss Chief | 84″ x 132″ — 2007 | Acrylic on canvas | Collection of the National Gallery of Canada

An empowered alter ego

“Creating Miss Chief was a strategy to, again, challenge the subjectivity of the artists in the 19th century, like George Catlin, John Mix Stanley, various others who were painting themselves in their own work. And it was a way of challenging the subjectivity of the work by saying, okay, ‘This is an artist with his own creative license who’s painting himself in his work.’

“It was also about the ego of the artist, to promote themselves, to have such a strong position.

I wanted my alter ego to be front-and-centre in a very aggressive way to reverse the gaze as a First Nations artist that could appear to live in that time period and be the observer of European settler cultures.

“I wanted my alter ego to be front-and-centre in a very aggressive way to reverse the gaze as a First Nations artist that could appear to live in that time period and be the observer of European settler cultures. So she has proven to be an effective way of disrupting this historical narrative — the dominant narrative that we’ve received through art history and through the telling of history.

“And because she’s a diva alter ego, she kind of demands to be at centre stage.” 

Sunday in the Park | 72″ x 96″ — 2010 | Acrylic on canvas

Disrupting perception

“I wanted to disrupt people’s perception about this received history. We go to museums, we see these paintings. We accept that this is the authoritative version of how North America was settled — made by European settler artists. So my intent was to get people to ask questions that may be uneasy questions about what was actually happening when those paintings were being made.

“People were being forcibly removed from the land. Those landscapes were all empty — most of them were empty. But there were many, many nations of people that lived in North America that were being removed.

I wanted to think about the Indigenous people and their relationship to the land.

“So the paintings for me were lies, and at least they were subjective. It was a story of North America that was told from one side. I wanted to think about the Indigenous people and their relationship to the land. It is a fact that they were living in these landscapes but were never visible — or very rarely were they ever painted in these landscapes.” 

Focusing on resilience

“In a lot of my work, I really prefer to focus on the resilience of Indigenous people, the resilience of our cultures. We’re still here — despite all of these theories of the ‘vanishing Indian,’ the end of the trail; we are still present.

“We are still innovative cultures. We are still moving forward.”

In a lot of my work, I really prefer to focus on the resilience of Indigenous people, the resilience of our cultures.

Kent Monkman ‘reverses the colonial gaze’ with new paintings at the Met

3 years ago

Duration 3:30

Visitors to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art will be greeted by two ‘bold’ new paintings from Cree artist Kent Monkman for the next few months.

Kent Monkman’s comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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Woodstock Art Gallery to Host Last Summer Drop-In Today – 104.7 Heart FM

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Tuesday, August 9th, 2022 6:13am

Families will be able to stop by the Woodstock Art Gallery from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. today for the last studio drop-in of the summer.

WOODSTOCK – The Woodstock Art Gallery is back with its last studio drop-in of the summer.

From 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. today you can check out the new free, self-guided interactive art experience for all ages where you can explore, build and keep your art. Children under 16 years old must be accompanied by an adult in order to participate.

Adults and kids are welcome to stop by and have fun, with your memento tied in with current exhibits at the art gallery.

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Downtown Williams Lake Art Walk 2022 opens Aug. 12 and will feature 30 artists at 30 businesses – Williams Lake Tribune

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The Downtown Williams Lake Art Walk 2022 will kick off with some live art action on Friday, August 12.

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. the grand opening event will include kids activities, door prizes, handing out guidebooks and a live paint battle.

The “Battle of the Brushes” will involve five or six artists battling it out for painting supremacy from noon to 1 p.m. The artists will be given a subject ahead of time but will also be thrown a curve ball part way through to create an element of improvisation as well.

Patrons will be able to watch as the artists create pieces at the event and can even vote on their favourite painting and one selected by the organizers will also be used in the marketing for the 2023 art walk.

“We’re hoping that their end results are fun and interesting and that people are entertained as they paint,” said Sherry Yonkman, Downtown Williams Lake executive director.

The paintings will also be auctioned off.

Downtown Art Walk is an event showcasing artists’ artworks in local downtown businesses, the event is free for patrons, and guides can be picked up at the Downtown Williams lake office, participating businesses, at the Stationhouse Gallery and at the Tourism Discovery Centre or at the Thursday Performance in the Park on Aug. 11.

The artworks will be on display from Aug. 12 to Sept. 7 and patrons can use the map in the guidebook to plan their walks and learn more about the artists.

On the back page of the guidebook is a passport which every hosting business can stamp and then patrons can use their stamped passports to enter to win $500 towards their favourite artist’s work or a number of $50 gift certificates as well.

Participating businesses include: United Floors; Williams Lake Boys and Girls Club; Interior Properties Real Estate; Kornak & Hamm’s Pharmacy Ltd.; Williams Lake First Nation; RE/MAX Williams Lake Realty; All-Ways Travel; City of Williams Lake ; Western Financial Group; Williams Lake Optometry; The Bean Counter Bistro;Williams Lake & District Credit Union; Sta-Well Health Foods; NEXT GENeral Mercantile + Refillery; The Open Book; The Realm of Toys & The Nerd Room; Woodland Jewellers Ltd.; Walk Rite Shoes; Do-More Promotional; Kit and Kaboodle; D&D Passports Xcetera ; Williams Lake Lavender Lingerie; Sandtronic Business Systems Ltd.; Crosina Realty Ltd.; The Heeler; Laketown Furnishings Ltd.; End of the Roll; Bob’s Footwear & Apparel Inc.; Lo’s Florist; and WorkBC Williams Lake.

Read more: Williams Lake Art Walk to feature 32 artists at 31 locations



ruth.lloyd@wltribune.com

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The chaotic joy of Art Fight – The Verge

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In the summer of 2017, I was stuck between high school and college and stuck between two versions of myself. There was the high school version of me, someone with a laser focus on traditional academic success, and the college version of myself, a mystery that burst with the potential to do and create outside of the box that I had formed around myself.

It started with a simple DM — something along the lines of “this seems fun; you should join it also!” When I clicked the link, I saw a dizzying array of character designs laid out in tidy rows, filling the homepage of the site. It was overwhelming, not just because so many people had joined this site but also because they had shared so many stories and characters. The characters were technicolor and sparkling, with lengthy backstories included with their pictures. There was so much passion, and I was being invited to join them.

Art Fight is a fairly simple concept. For the month of July, artists register on the site and are divided into teams. Once registered and sorted, they upload examples of their art along with personal characters and stories of their own that they would be interested in other people drawing. Then, the games begin.

You score points in Art Fight by drawing another team’s requests, called an “attack” in the lingo of the game. The more complex the request, the higher the score, and at the end of the month, the team with the most points gets a special badge on the site showing they’ve won. There’s no reward beyond the badge, and nobody is too strict about the teams. Individuals can change teams multiple times over the course of the month. The real incentive isn’t winning but, rather, drawing for others and being drawn in turn.

I was an amateur artist at the time and had spent very little time creating a social media profile and promoting my art. But even then, it was exciting to know I could draw for others and know they would be excited to draw back. Something about this space was welcoming to people of all skill levels and meant that I wasn’t lost in the digital noise.

In the following years, the time that I spent on Art Fight waxed and waned based on the business of my own summers. But each year, I made sure to draw at least one piece for it, taking the lovingly rendered illustration that another artist had made of their character and granting it life in my own art style. It remained a constant, this act of creating for someone else that I likely did not know.

The other constant was the range of other artists that used the platform. Some were students or hobby artists, drawing in the free time that they had on weekends or after work. Others were professional artists, pulling together attacks as breaks from their own work. What remained true was the range of people that Art Fight encompassed, with individuals from almost any walk of life with an interest in character design and storytelling coming together to share their creations.

Back in the summer of 2017, I hadn’t realized quite how special that was. Wedged in among my career aspirations and life goals, my art often feels pushed to the background, something that can’t be properly pursued unless it has a “purpose” (usually involving money). Having a space where that creation is encouraged and given a community, for any skill level and with few caveats, still feels exhilarating.

For the artists I know, sharing online can be a mixed blessing. Platforms offer reach but they can feel actively hostile, putting artists at the whims of algorithms and mainstream attention. There are few platforms actively devoted to art and even fewer constructed to make artists feel more comfortable. The result can feel alienating, forcing creators to post constantly to stay relevant rather than follow their own inspiration.

Art Fight, for me, is a balm to that. Even for a hobbyist artist like me, there is something exciting about individuals making art for each other without the caveats of platforms or the frantic scramble to be seen. It is a challenge that asks only for what you want to give to it rather than what the platform wants. For that reason, the month of July is a sanctuary — a place to create on my terms with the knowledge that it will still be seen by others and maybe be special to some of them.

Camille Butera is a Master of Science student at Oxford University and a recent graduate of Smith College. Outside of that, you can find her drawing and catching up on TV shows about five years after everyone else.

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