Ideas

Kent Monkman: Decolonizing art history

It's easy to identify a painting by Kent Monkman. His work is almost always monumental. Some of his canvasses as so big that buildings need to be built around them. Beyond that, Monkman often works with historical subjects — either quoting famous images from the history of art, or playing with real historical events by situating them in paintings that reflect obvious artistic references. Kent Monkman talks with Paul Kennedy about his life and work, and how to have fun while making serious statements about the world we live in.
Kent Monkman (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)
Listen to the full episode53:59

** This episode was originally published on February 12, 2019.

It's easy to identify a painting by Kent Monkman. His work is almost always monumental. Some of his canvasses as so big that buildings need to be built around them.

Beyond that, Monkman often works with historical subjects — either quoting famous images from the history of art, or playing with real historical events by situating them in paintings that reflect his obvious artistic references.

He often contextualizes elements of contemporary Indigenous or queer experience with backgrounds reminiscent of paintings by Old Masters from European and colonial history.

Monkman's practice has been anything but static or predictable. He started out as an abstract painter. He was more than a decade into a promising career when he suddenly realized that Indigenous history was not reflected in historical paintings by people like George Catlin or Paul Kane.

I needed my own artistic persona that could live inside the work. I wanted a persona that represented empowered Indigenous sexuality. That is why Miss Chief was created.- Kent Monkman

He set out to bring attention to the problem, by literally bringing indigenous people back into the picture —sometimes with hilarious results.

Eventually he created an alter-ego named Miss Chief.

She exists in Monkman's paintings, and is often also a living and breathing symbol of the points he's trying to make. He makes her "real" in popular performance pieces, and in a number of films. "She" is also writing a book that should appear sometime later this year.

Kent Monkman talks with Paul Kennedy about his life and work, and how to have fun while making serious statements about the world we live in.

Kent Monkman is a Canadian artist of Cree ancestry. 0:40

**This episode was produced by Paul Kennedy.