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One on One with Canadian Artist Kent Monkman

The Cree painter on indigenous art, his two-spirit alter ego and his epic work in progress.

Kent Monkman

Hometown Winnipeg

Home Base Toronto

Claim to Fame Exhibits at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

Current Projects Debuting Two Ships in Paris this spring, which was first previewed in Toronto at the 6 Degrees Citizen Space sponsored by Air Canada.

Dream Destination “The Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.”


Shame and Prejudice, your exhibition on the Canadian indigenous experience, is currently on tour. what has the response been like?
People are seeing paintings of subject matter they’ve never seen before – the big one is The Scream, which depicts the removal of indigenous children. Creating images that make this history seem more real has had an impact.

Was education a goal?
Absolutely. I didn’t realize how much of Canadian history most Canadians don’t know. There’s a long legacy of erasure. People can be aware of the facts and figures – about teen suicides and missing and murdered women – but to really understand the emotional impact? That’s what art is for.

What’s the inspiration behind Miss Chief, the two-spirit character who appears in many of your paintings?
I wanted to create an artistic persona that could reverse the gaze – someone who, at first glance, appears to be from the 19th century but also challenges the dynamics of the telling of history. She also symbolizes the third gender and the sexualities that were misunderstood by European settler cultures and ultimately repressed through colonial experience. I bring her to life in my performance art, too.

You’re finishing up Two Ships, your largest painting to date. Why did you make this one so big?
It’s 3.6 metres tall and 7.3 metres wide, and has been three years in the making. It depicts the Two Row Wampum Treaty between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch – and it wouldn’t have the same impact on a small canvas. I’m an admirer of French painting, and this is a homage to that.

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