Shame and Prejudice, on display at the University of Toronto Art Museum until March 4 before touring across Canada. Monkman has produced a series of paintings and several large-scale sculptural installations, as well as borrowing relevant historic artifacts from museums across the country. The show is divided up into 9 sections, moving in reverse chronological order from present day back to the arrival of the Europeans and creation of New France. Dealing with historic themes including the fur trade, building the railway, signing of the treaties, Indian reserve systems, residential schools, Christianity, as well as generic themes of incarceration and violence towards women, each section of the exhibit is narrated in the voice of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. We barely made it into the over-capacity artist/curator talk for this show, which resulted in the largest crowd that the Art Museum ever experienced. Monkman is extremely well-spoken and gave great insights into the deeper meanings and messages behind his works.
The piece "Death of a Virgin, After Caravaggio", reimagines the Italian Baroque painter's 1606 masterpiece, replacing the figures of the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdeline and the Apostles with Indigenous tribe members. Monkman's version comments on the new illnesses and diseases that the North American Indians were exposed to after coming in contact with the Europeans. The natives had no resistance to smallpox, measles, influenza and many died. I find it interesting that Caravaggio dressed his Virgin and Mary Magdeline in red while Monkman chose to clothe his corresponding figures in blue, as both these colours are highly symbolic in Christian iconography, representing humanity vs the divine. Next to the painting is a display containing a Nurses bag, scalpels and medicines that once again exude an ambiguous tone... Should these "strange Western treatments" be seen as foreign and threatening, or helpful salvation for the sick?
resonated through the generations.
An accompanying installation consists of two walls of beautifully decorated cradleboards, which are traditional Native American Indian baby carriers where the infant is swaddled and strapped to a flat board. But nothing in this exhibition is shown for aesthetics alone without an underlying message. After admiring the craftsmanship of the artifacts, you notice that some of the boards are stark and barren while others are missing all together, represented only by a chalk outline. These are in reference to the missing children who were taken away.
a group of white men in various stages of undress, some wearing only kinky bondage harnesses, being raped and ravaged by bears and whipped by Miss Chief. Bears are considered to be spiritual by the Indigenous people but feared by the White Man. Could these men be some of the Fathers of Confederation from "The Daddies" and "Subjugation of Truth" paintings, finally getting their comeuppance?
Hearing Kent Monkman talk about the meanings behind his various pieces of art allowed us to appreciate the poignancy of the messages that he was trying to convey. It is too bad the Shame and Prejudice exhibition will not be on display for longer, and that there is not more curatory notes for those who were not lucky enough to attend the curator talk.