Courtesy imagineNATIVE
"The Rise and Fall of Civilization" at imagineNATIVE by artist Kent Monkman

Drag Queens and Buffaloes: "The Rise and Fall of Civilization" at imagineNATIVE

Danielle Miller

Kent Monkman, a First Nations artist of Cree ancestry who works through a variety of mediums ranging from painting, film and performance art will be premiering his new art installation: The Rise and Fall of Civilization, on Friday October 16th at the Gardiner Museum for imagineNative Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto, Canada.

Also featured during the festival will be a series of short films titled Kent Monkman: Miss Chief in Motion. Featuring an iconic drag queen and alter-ego of the artist Miss Chief Eagle Testikle.

Monkman shared the deeper reasoning behind incorporating Miss Chief in his work.

"I include Miss Chief in a lot of my work as I want people to understand that two spirited people have traditionally had a place in our societies. Miss Chief represents empowered sexuality to counter the rigid sexuality that came with the colonizers. She reverses the gaze, challenging the authority of the settlers’ perspectives. In this installation, as in many other or my artworks, she is a provocateur."

Courtesy Photo: Artist Kent Monkman

The audience will be able to further engage upon these ideas with Monkman during the exhibit.  Kelvin Browne, the Gardiner Museum's Executive Director and CEO provided insight on the dynamics of transparency between Kent Monkman's talks and the way that communication speaks to the audience.

"Kent cares about his audience, and has a way of communicating with the people who are not predisposed to contemporary art. This draws people to new ideas. Rather than feeling intimidated, these talks intrigue people. Kent is brilliant in the way he engages ideas, versus sounding impenetrable."

Monkman's exhibition will also include a 9-foot buffalo jump, depicted like the rock formations that were used by tribes to hunt buffalo. At the top of the cliff will reside two mounted buffalo alongside a sculpture of Miss Chief.

Browne also expanded upon the choice of Monkman to incorporate Miss Chief in the exhibit.

"Kent uses humor in a painful situation. The Miss Chief sculpture is humorous and disarms tension and pain of these heavy topics. Kent Monkman made a comment at one of his talks relevant to this; ‘the way First Peoples have learned to laugh as a way to process their histories.’"

Sculptures of cubist-style bison will plunge headlong into the gallery, shattering at the base of the cliff in a pile of broken ceramics. The Gardiner Museum website offers more details about the exhibition as it relates to the Ulm Plshkun Buffalo Jump.

At the Ulm Pishkun Buffalo Jump, one of the largest in the world, a layer of compacted bones thirteen feet deep was found. This compacted bone, much like the bone ash used to make bone china, fills the space below the cliffs and tells the story of thousands of years of sustainable hunting layer by layer, before the quick destruction of the bison by the European settlers.

The layers of sediment in the rock face and the compacted bone and ceramics at the foot of the cliff allude to the layers of civilization, from the ancient to the present. The plunging bison that leap from the cliff and morph into modernist bulls and back into ancient rock drawings function as a metaphor for the inevitable flow of history.

Monkman's Installation will continue until January 10, 2016. The annual imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival will be held in Toronto from October 14-18, 2015 


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