Théâtre de Cristal
The Théâtre de Cristal is what Monkman refers to as the champagne of tipis, the title recalls Cristal Champagne and, as insinuated, it effervesces with sparkle and elegance. A large chandelier anchors the apex of the structure while beads glisten along threads to the floor. Thirteen solid lines of beads form the thirteen poles of the tipi. Just as the buffalo count would supply a tribe with a record of its history, a stretched (simulated) buffalo hide on the floor recounts the tales of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Monkman’s Berdashe alter ego.
In over 150 North American Aboriginal cultures, the Berdashe, or village transvestite, was an accepted and often celebrated member of the tribe. Although the tradition has not been well documented (it is certain that in the case of George Catlin the lack of representation was deliberate), knowledge of its presence reveals a more complex understanding of Aboriginal and sexual identities. The persona of Miss Chief challenges the authoritative version of history by playing the starring role in “period” photographs, romantic paintings and silent era films such as Group of Seven Inches and Robin’s Hood. Through this re-imaging of history, missing narratives are explored as Miss Chief subverts the authority of the artists who created images of Aboriginal people in the 19th century.
In Group of Seven Inches, and Robin’s Hood she leaps back in time and rearranges the colonial story, composing an unexpected sequence of events. In both films she plays the part of an Aboriginal explorer, approaching European subjects with a removed curiosity. On the walls surrounding the Théâtre Miss Chief has borrowed from Paul Kane and George Catlin’s prose for musings on her subject, the European Male:
They are noble, gentlemanly,
and high minded, although
they are they often prone to
argument and fierce bouts
The history and customs of such
a people, preserved by pictorial
illustrations, are themes worthy
of the lifetime of one artist, and
nothing short of the loss of my
life shall prevent me from
knowing them and becoming
She exerts an authorial role in her historical encounters, a tradition her forebears’ started long ago when they invented songs and dances to entertain Europeans who thought they were observing an “authentic” ceremony. In 1906, for example, the Hopi Indians performed a “Death Song” in Berlin for circus goers, subsequently, in 1963, it was discovered that this ritual song did not even exist in Hopi culture. The video is projected from the chandelier into a geometric pattern, mimicking that of the buffalo count, and allowing viewing from every angle both inside and outside the structure. The shimmering Théâtre de Cristal recalls the glamour of a Victorian ballroom, however its light form makes a macabre gesture, it rebeads the history of contact and
Robin’s Hood is the final chapter in a trilogy of the adventures and histories of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, a wandering artist from the Great Plains of North America. She journeys far across the seas to study the unspoiled European Male in his native habitat where she meets the handsome Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest, but realizes too late that one can never trust a white man, especially on his own turf.
Group of Seven Inches
Group of Seven Inches borrows from the diaries of 19th century painters of “Indians,” George Catlin and Paul Kane, turning their dismissive writings on the “romantic savage” upside down and inside out (more of these text are also inscribe on the walls surrounding the tipi). Miss Chief Eagle Testickle (the outrageous alter ego of Cree artist Kent Monkman), forces innocent naked white men to become her figure models, seduces them with whiskey, and when she’s done with them, dresses them up as more “authentic” examples of the “European male.” Shot on the grounds of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario, Group of Seven Inches subverts the subjectivity and authority of colonial art history and everything else it can get its hands on.
*All exhibitions and events prior to 2012 are credited to The Context Gallery, our former name.
Kent Monkman is a Canadian artist of Cree ancestry who works with a variety of mediums, including painting, film/video, performance, and installation. He has had solo exhibitions at numerous Canadian museums including the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and the Art Gallery of Hamilton. He has participated in various international group exhibitions including: “We come in peace…” Histories of the Americas, at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, The American West, at Compton Verney, in Warwickshire, England, and presently the 2010 Sydney Biennale.
Monkman has created site specific performances at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, The Royal Ontario Museum, and at Compton Verney, and has also made super 8 versions of these performances which he calls “Colonial Art Space Interventions.” His award-winning short film and video works have been screened at various national and international festivals, including the 2007 and 2008 Berlinale, and the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival.
His work is represented in numerous public and private collections including the National Gallery of Canada, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Museum London, The Glenbow Museum, The Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, The Mackenzie Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Simthsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. He is represented by Bailey Fine Arts, Toronto, and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, UK, and Trepanier Baer Gallery, Calgary.