Kent Monkman- Camille Paley

Camille Paley
Extra Credit- Kent Monkman

On the last day of class we talked about Kent Monkman, a Canadian artist of Cree descent. Monkman is recognized for his paintings, films/videos, performances, and installations. In class we examined Monkman’s painting, Empathy for the Less Fortunate. In this piece Monkman inserted figures reminiscent of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’ Avignon into a Bierstadt-esque setting. He juxtaposed these elements to comment on the cult of primitivism and exoticism among artist in the early twentieth century.
I was so intrigued by Monkman’s symbolism and style that I investigated some of his other paintings. I went onto Monkman’s website where I was allowed to zoom into his work and study the details depicted. I found that Monkman created numerous paintings that utilized characters and images from Western art, inserted amongst a dramatic landscape. One particular instance of this is The Dance to Overcome Earth. In this piece Monkman derived his nude, dancing figures from Matisse’s The Dance. It is fascinating how Monkman presents this iconic imagery in the midst of a pristine, picturesque landscape. By employing a completely different approach to paint the dancers and the landscape, Monkman clearly wanted to convey the notion of “other” and primitivism.
While, many of Monkman’s “native” figures are disempowered against the vast landscapes, there are some paintings where Monkman actually monumentalizes and maybe even heroicizes the central figure. “Miss Eagle Testickle” (Miss Chief for short) is Monkman’s alter ego and she is often portrayed as a powerful force in Monkman’s work. Monkman stated this character is meant to protest against Western artists who romanticized American Indians and question the lens through which Americans perceive this group of individuals. One work in which “Miss Chief” is presented is The Trapper’s Bride. This painting can be associated with David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps. In this image “Miss Chief,” dressed in stilettos and ribbons, replaces Napoleon and is mounted on top of a bucking horse. “Eagle Testickle MMVI” replaces the inscription on the rock in the original work that reads “Bonaparte.” By illustrating “Miss Chief” in this light, it gives her authority and reveals she in the one in control. This also presents issues of sexuality and gender.
I can go on forever comparing Monkman’s paintings to famous works of art. Below this section I will post some images and you should take a look at the similarities and differences between the two. Also, be sure to check out Kent Monkman’s website!

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