Kent Monkman’s new, large scale project takes the viewer on a journey through Canada’s history that starts in the present and takes us back to a hundred and fifty years before Confederation. With its entry points in the harsh urban environment of Winnipeg’s north end, and contemporary life on the reserve, the exhibition takes us all the way back to the period of New France and the fur trade. The Rococo masterpiece The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard is reinterpreted as an installation with Monkman’s alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, in a beaver trimmed baroque dress, swinging back and forth between the Generals Wolfe and Montcalm. As both artist and curator, Kent Monkman’s first major solo-exhibition at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto includes his own paintings, drawings and sculptural works, in dialogue with historical artefacts and art works borrowed from museum and private collections from across the country. The exhibition narrates a story of Canada through the lens of First Nations’ resilience.
Celebrated for his unorthodox approach to history—entailing humour, parody and artistic fiction—Monkman’s project takes aim at stereotypes perpetuated in popular culture, high art, and spectacle: heteronormativity unravels in polysexual desire; colonial empire is upended in post-colonial counter-narratives; and the historical form of the museum diorama—the kind popularized by museums of Natural History, often featuring frozen moments of Aboriginal life in terms of a “vanished race”—is turned inside out. With a focus on his new paintings and drawings, Monkman’s visceral and moving exhibition provides a searing critique of Canada’s colonial policies in response to celebrations of Canada’s 150th birthday. As Monkman explains, “The last 150 years—the period of Modernity—represents the most devastating period for First Peoples, including the signing of the numbered treaties, the reserve system, genocidal policies of the residential schools, mass incarceration and urban squalor.”
The exhibition was produced by the Art Museum at the University of Toronto in partnership with the Confederation Centre Art Gallery, and has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada and the Ontario Arts Council. Lead Sponsor: Donald R. Sobey Foundation.