ICYMI: Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience

Kent Monkman. Reincarceration, 2013. Acrylic on canvas. Collection of Glenbow Museum.

From one of Canada’s most recognized contemporary Indigenous artists, Kent Monkman, the WAG presented Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience until February 2020, which chronicles and reframes 150 years of Indigenous experience in Canada’s history pre-Confederation to present day.

 “Bringing together Monkman’s large paintings, installations, sculptures, and dioramas shown with material culture, decorative arts, and objects mined from museums and collections across Canada — the scale of the exhibition is triumphant,” said Jaimie Isaac, WAG Curator of Indigenous & Contemporary Art.

The exhibition was presented in nine chapters. The power of the last chapter in the chronological journey could not be understated. It reclaimed Indigenous space with compositions that merged myth, spirituality, and art history, the Urban Res streets are populated with tattooed Renaissance angels, gang members protecting their neighbourhoods, ancestors visiting from the spirit world — observing and waiting, medicine men in beaded sports jerseys, a spirit buffalo herd, and, of course, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle — Monkman’s genderfluid, supernatural, shape-shifting alter ego.

An anonymous donor generously gave one of the works to the WAG for the whole community. The Deposition is a monumental painting in which you can sense tension between cubist beings and representational human subjects. Monkman references the Modernists’ flattening of pictorial space to comment on the historical and contemporary compression of Indigenous cultures. In particular, he used the Modernist figurations of Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, and Henry Moore.

“These paintings are rich and layered with narrative, authoring Indigenous experience into the canon of art history,” said Isaac. “Monkman’s work passionately conveys the dispossession, starvation, incarceration, and ongoing oppression of Indigenous peoples. The evocative broken and distorted figures of women are reminiscent of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’Avignon, a well-known painting evoking the legacy of modernist influences of superiority, misogyny, and subjection of women and other cultures.”


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