An artist of Cree and Irish ancestry, Kent Monkman’s work infuses art-historical imagery with the narratives and perspectives of the indigenous people it has often omitted. His practice vividly renders episodes of violence that Native Americans have suffered at the hands of Europeans, yet he also recasts colonial myths with subversion and humor. In Monkman’s practice, the damage of racism, homophobia, and misogyny is rewritten through the indigenous viewpoint. His precisely rendered work pays homage to representational European painting, even as it defies those artists’ celebrations of colonial expansion and cultural appropriation. Monkman’s inspirations include romanticized depictions of Native Americans by nineteenth-century painters like George Catlin and Alfred Jacob Miller, as well as Pablo Picasso’s ‘primitivism.’ Monkman identifies as both queer and two-spirit; his drag alter-ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, appears in a number of works on view. In Casualties of Modernity, 2015, a soap opera parody featured in the VOLTA Video Wall program, Miss Chief visits a hospital and laments the way 20th century movements — from Romanticism to Cubism — have failed under modernism’s dictate to “make it new.” In a new collage series, “Fate is a Cruel Mistress,” 2017, Miss Chief embodies the roles of Biblical temptresses.
— Wendy Vogel