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How Kent Monkmon’s Alter Ego Challenges Colonial History

Artist Kent Monkman corrects the historical record through the lens of his charming alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testicle.

Cree artist Kent Monkman has a memorable alter ego. Miss He is Chief He is Eagle His Testicle is a time-traveling, shape-shifting, gender-fluid agent of the imagination that appears in many of his works. With her flowing black hair, glamorous outfit and red-soled Louboutin heels, she stands out in Monkman’s work depicting settlers and settlers. In his 2016 tableau, The Daddies, she sits naked and proud on a blanket in Hudson Bay, holding court among the Fathers of the Commonwealth and telling colonial tales of the discovery of North America. It’s confusing. In 2019, New York’s Met Museum commissioned two of his monumental works featuring Mischief. That was the moment when she and Monkman broke out on the world stage.

Miss Chief is the star of Being Legendary, Monkman’s ambitious exhibition at the new Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. The show features 35 of his original works that showcase Mischief’s earthly journeys from the beginning of time to the present day. “I thought of her as a legendary being who fit into the Kree cosmology, but her specific purpose is to be our witness,” says Monkman.

A native of the Fisher River Clean Nation in Manitoba’s Treaty 5 region, Monkman has been making art since the 1990s. His richly colored works place indigenous peoples in environments that have been historically erased. The exhibit is subversive, uncouth, and a complete joke. Miss Her Chief is the arbiter of that joy, and becoming a legend is in a way her story, told through the narrative of the text written on the walls of the gallery: Michelangelo’s Sun, Moon , starting with her creation, with a celestial riff on “Creation of the Planet”. Other paintings depict real Aboriginal figures, such as Cree astronomer Wilfred Buck and Elder Pauline Shirt. The latter was his one descendant of the men killed in the Battleford hanging in 1885, and eight natives were executed.

Being Legendary celebrates the depth and breadth of Indigenous knowledge, reaffirms the presence of Indigenous Peoples, and challenges the colonial narrative of history. I wanted people to think about how long they’ve been here and how deep our knowledge is,” says Monkman. I hope these figures and ideas will be immortalized in art. The final portrait, with the constellations above the back, brings the story full circle. The exhibition starts at the end. twinkle of stars.

“The compositional research for our stories comes from the land”: This tableau is set before the scoops and other forced assimilations of the 60s, laughing around the fire and sharing the music and harvest. It shows an indigenous woman walking around. Some figures are colorful powwow regalia as babies crawl along the ground. It’s a moment of happiness and community, oblivious to the horrors to come.

“I study for coming from a hole in the sky”: In this cosmic painting, a hole in the sky connects the Earth world to the celestial dimension behind the Pleiades star cluster. An audio narration from Mischief’s perspective explains that by following the constellations of the first divine being, Mischief his Chief’s brother’s constellation, a stargazer can find a hole in the winter sky.

The Constellation of Knowledge: The Kree science is rooted in the ahak (mind) gathered from dreaming, traveling, observing, storytelling, contemplating, ceremonies, and creating art. This painting suggests that indigenous knowledge and science have always been associated with the land.

This story appears in the November issue. of McLean.

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How Kent Monkmon’s Alter Ego Challenges Colonial History

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