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 kentmonkman.com.
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