Artist Kent Monkman's Surreal Visions of the Urban Rez [10 Pictures]

Artist Kent Monkman's Surreal Visions of the Urban Rez [10 Pictures]


In an exhibition called "Urban Res," currently featured at Sargent's Daughters gallery in New York City, Cree painter Kent Monkman looks at the ironies faced by today's urban Natives. In an interview with the Huffington Post, the artist recalled formative encounters with his own culture through the skewed lenses of museums and 19th-century paintings of George Catlin. The museums presented large dioramas "where Native Americans were frozen in time, in some idyllic pre-contact state," Monkman says, while "Catlin and others were obsessed with capturing peoples who wouldn’t exist in the future."

In Monkman's canvases, Indians have survived and are living in cities (specifically the North End of Winnipeg, Monkman's home town), but that other museum mainstay -- art -- isn't doing so well. Figures painted in the style of Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon loaf on sidewalks or stare sullenly from doorways. Angels from Western religious art are present, though what they're doing isn't clear -- are they rescuing a wounded Henry Moore-style sculpture, or simply stealing it? In two of the paintings, a group of urban Indigenous youth are stepping in to try to save artwork that is in trouble. In another painting, an Indian on a motorcycle speeds down the street, taking aim with his bow and arrow at a herd of buffalo -- some of which are cubist.

Monkman lampoons the idea of a museum diorama as well, with a figure of his alter ego, the cross-dressing Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, astride a motorcycle in front of a painted landscape. Miss Chief has arms outstretched, reminiscent of the famous sculpture "Appeal to the Great Spirit;" on the ground lies a flat Picasso-esque buffalo, felled by arrows.

To learn more about Kent Monkman and his work, visit

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chahta ohoyo's picture
chahta ohoyo
why in the HELL is motorcycle warrior wearing 9 inch ladies s & m the very least monkman's work is a CONTROVERSIAL and interesting, but offensive at the same time
hammertime's picture
way too strange for me... I think he has been living in the city for way too long and he needs some time out in the forrest
Šagláša's picture
I wouldn't take the 9 inch ladies' boots too literally... From what I've read, the Miss Chief figure is meant to be showy and flamboyant. It is Monkman's response to the way colonialist artists such as George Catlin used to paint themselves into the work (rather egotistically). I think Miss Chief's rebellious appearance is also a deliberate challenge to the way Indians are depicted in colonialist paintings of North America, where they are often painted into romanticised landscapes like mere decoration.
Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
I'm an artist (an airbrush artist for the last 15 years), and a surrealist and I ABSOLUTELY LOVE MONKMAN'S WORK! It's fresh, it's controversial and it's surreal! What a refreshing change of pace from the tired old subject matter that sells so well with tourists. It seems to me that the only people painting Indians on horseback, Indians with pottery or Indian campsites are retired White people who've moved to the southwest to bitch about the heat, the dust and raising taxes to help educational needs. Art should either have a message or be controversial otherwise it's just decorative art. If your idea of art is "something that matches the sofa or the curtains," just spend your money at Wal-Mart. I'm almost positive you'd LOVE an artist named Thomas Kincaid. ;)


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