This summer, Rochechouart Museum of Contemporary Art
has invited Canadian artist, Kent Monkman (b. 1965) to give what is his first solo museum exhibition in Europe. Monkman's Cree Indian roots inform a multi-disciplinary practice which encompasses performance, video, large-scale and sometimes musical installations, re-vamped versions of historical painting and new takes on early photography. In the guise of his unbridled and eccentric alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, the artist uses poetry and humour to appropriate and refashion preconceived colonial ideas of American Indian culture and in the process, produces a body of work that constantly examines issues related to difference.
"Kent Monkman: The Artist as Hunter" particularly focusses on questions of identity and challenges to power structures, both key elements of Monkman's art. Included are a set of paintings as well as photographs, prints, films and several installations, one of which is a diorama. They are to be displayed throughout Rochechouart castle, occupying areas such as the castle tower or the Hunt Gallery where 16th century wall paintings of a stag hunt echo the political and belligerent dimension of Monkman's own productions. An installation combining music and dance sited in the wooden-beamed top-floor castle gallery space conjures up a traditional Native Indian "berdache" (Two-Spirit) ceremony. Such two-spirit people were revered members of the tribe who displayed an amalgam of male and female traits. Their existence astonished and appalled many early explorers of Western America such as the painter George Catlin.
Kent Monkman belongs to a generation that has found pathways to reconcile living as a Native Indian in a modern culture, in his case through a novel and unexpected mix of theatricality and tragicomedy. He uses his flamboyant alter ego as a means to deconstruct conventional versions of historical events and introduces a note of irony that undermines presumptions about political, national and sexual identity. ""I created Miss Chief to represent a person of the third gender. She is an empowered and outrageous diva who drop-kicks the colonial experience in her 7" stiletto moccasins. I created her as an artist, and reinstated her in the landscapes of the nineteenth century to not only reverse the gaze, but to challenge the balance of power. As an artist, she has come to life in various guises, often straddling a place between performance diva and a supernatural spirit or trickster. Using the power of her own sexuality, she rampages through history kind of like a superhero, asking provocative questions. Playing with historical metaphors is a ploy that goes beyond just questioning a post-colonial society. It is acutely concerned with the contemporary reality of hybridising cultures in our present global economy.
Based in Toronto, Kent Monkman has exhibited widely, with work shown at The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Ontario Art Gallery (AGO) in Toronto, at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver Art Museum and at the National Museum of the American Indian (Smithsonian Museum) in Washington USA. He has also exhibited works at events such as the 17th Biennale of Sydney in 2010. This autumn he is scheduled to take part in Unsettled Landscapes at SITE Santa Fe, New Mexico. Recent appearances (2011-12) in France include My Winnipeg at La Maison Rouge (Paris) and the Musée International des Arts Modestes in Sète.