Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience is Kent Monkman’s first solo exhibition. As both the curator and artist of the exhibition, Monkman showcased his paintings, sculptures, and drawings at University College for the Art Museum at the University of Toronto on January 26 for Indigenous Education Week.
Monkman is a Canadian First Nations artist of Cree ancestry. In Shame and Prejudice, he depicts images of Canadian history, beginning at a time before Confederation and ending in the present. His work conveys the Aboriginal identity and the historical struggle endured by First Nations people during the arrival of European settlers and missionaries.
The first thing that struck me when I walked into Monkman’s exhibition was his naturalistic style. This exhibition was organised as part of Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. But instead of celebrating Confederation, Monkman aims to create a realistic depiction of colonialism. He offers his audience a thought-provoking portrayal of imperialism, demonstrating the extent of damage that has been inflicted on Canada’s Aboriginal people in the name of progress.
Monkman divides the exhibition into nine main sections, each accompanied with a brief narrative told by Miss Chief Eagle Testickle (Monkman’s alter ego). The exhibition tells a story from her perspective. Each section depicts a particular area of Aboriginal culture. Combined, the nine sections illustrate the rise and fall of Canada’s Aboriginal people throughout time. Three pieces that stood out to me were “The Scream,” “The Daddies,” and “The Subjugation of Truth.” Monkman painted these three pieces with acrylic on canvas.
“The Scream” can be found in the fifth section, named “The Forcible Transfer of Children.” This painting depicts RCMP officers and missionaries forcefully removing Aboriginal children from their families to send them to schools. The painting shows the pained expressions on the mothers’ faces as they struggle to hold on to their children. Birds of prey swoop through the overcast sky as officers and priests pry children from the arms of their parents. “The Scream” is extremely poignant, as it offers a new perspective on education and Canadian figures of authority.
”The Daddies” is arguably one of Monkman’s most renowned paintings. In this piece, a naked Miss Chief—a man with long, brown hair, earrings, and black heels —sits atop a Hudson’s Bay blanket before the fathers of Confederation, including Sir John A. McDonald. The subtle mockery in this piece makes for an effective critique against Canada’s Confederation. Miss Chief’s narrative softly echoes nearby, “Naked, I am at my strongest.”
Lastly, I was struck by “The Subjugation of Truth.” In this piece, Monkman paints two Aboriginal chiefs, Big Bear and Poundmaker, with their ankles shackled to their chairs. An RCMP officer places his hand on one of their shoulders as a white man sits across the desk with a treaty for the chiefs to sign. Sir John A. McDonald watches the scene, while a subtle Miss Chief is disguised as Queen Victoria in a portrait that hangs above the desk. The chains illustrate how the Aboriginal people were forced to sign over their land.
The harsh realities depicted in Monkman’s art offer an eye-opener towards Canada’s colonial past. In essence, Shame and Prejudice could be considered controversial for its revealing content. I left the gallery feeling smaller, but also grateful for this enlightenment.
Shame & Prejudice: A Story of Resilience runs until March 5 at Hart House.