VANCOUVER BC — The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at UBC announces Kent Monkman’s timely solo exhibition Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience, on display from August 6, 2020 to January 3, 2021. A searing critique of Canada’s colonial policies over the past 150 years, the large-scale exhibition prioritizes First Nations’ perspectives during a pivotal moment in the ongoing global discourse on systemic racism. Curated by Monkman — a contemporary Canadian artist of Cree ancestry — the provocative exhibition features roughly 80 pieces, including the artist’s own paintings, drawings, installations, and sculptures, in dialogue with historical artifacts and artworks borrowed from museums and private collections from across Canada. MOA is the final stop on the acclaimed exhibition’s three-year, cross-country tour.
“The last 150 years have been the most devastating for Indigenous peoples in this country,” says Monkman. “And yet I could not think of any historical paintings that conveyed or authorized the Indigenous experience in the art history milieu. Where are the paintings from the 19th century that recounted, with passion and empathy, the dispossession, starvation, incarceration, and genocide of Indigenous peoples? Shame and Prejudice activates a vital dialogue about the impact of European settler cultures on Indigenous peoples and about Indigenous resilience.”
MOA’s curatorial liaison for the exhibition, Dr. Jennifer Kramer says: “MOA is honoured to present Shame and Prejudice, particularly in these times of protest and resistance against the oppression of marginalized peoples. This exhibition is a ‘restorying’ that transforms the familiar nationalist myth of British-French settlers discovering a new world ripe for possession and resource extraction into a counter-narrative focused on Indigenous strength, healing, and resurgence. Shame and Prejudice is part of a continuum of work at MOA that showcases Indigenous voices through contemporary art and social discourse.”
The exhibition premiered at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto in January 2017, in an iconoclastic commentary on Canada’s sesquicentennial. Appropriating European aesthetic traditions from Caravaggio’s realism to Manet’s impressionism and Picasso’s cubism, the artist’s series of paintings, drawings, and installations takes aim at the stereotypes of Indigenous peoples perpetuated in popular culture and high art. Through a darkly humorous narrative — told through the omniscient perspective of Monkman’s two-spirited alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle — Monkman boldly confronts the devastation of colonialism while also celebrating the resilient spirit of Indigenous peoples.
Guided by Miss Chief’s excerpted memoirs, visitors will embark on a time-travelling journey through Canada’s history — from the fur trade and confederation to the rise of residential schools and impoverished realities of contemporary urban life. Nine distinct chapters explore themes of colonization, incarceration, loss, violence, and resilience through Monkman’s visceral representations of historical traumas and injustices, which continue to impact Indigenous communities today.
In many of the exhibition’s works, Monkman employs the glamorous Miss Chief to reverse the colonial gaze, upending traditional ideas of Canadian history. In the tongue-in-cheek sculptural installation, Scent of a Beaver (2017), based on Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s rococo masterpiece, The Swing, Miss Chief — clad in an opulent silk and fur gown — is the object of adoration by a French and English general. The work dissects the power dynamics at play in the shaping of the fur-based economy of early North America. Miss Chief’s trickster presence takes a decidedly more provocative turn in The Daddies (2016), an irreverent interpretation of Robert Harris’ 1884 painting The Fathers of Confederation. Here, Canada’s forefathers are gathered to admire a naked Miss Chief — posed atop a striped Hudson’s Bay blanket — subverting Canada’s confederation with an empowered representation of Indigenous sexuality.
While Monkman employs satirical humour to undermine the white-washing of Canada’s past, his commentary takes a poignant tone when exploring the loss and violence experienced by Indigenous women and children. In Death of the Virgin (After Caravaggio) (2016), a replication of the baroque master’s painting of the same name, Monkman replaces Caravaggio’s virgin with a young Indigenous woman, in a commentary on the missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. The artist also takes on residential schools — one of Canada’s most shameful atrocities — in The Scream (2017), a jarring depiction of the forceful removal of Indigenous infants and children from their homes. The policy’s tragic consequences are further illuminated with a display of Indigenous cradleboards juxtaposed with chalk outlines of missing traditional baby carriers.
One of the main themes running throughout the exhibition is the historical Indigenous experience of moving from a state of plenty to a state of deprivation. Pre-colonial bounty is represented through a frequent motif of beavers, bison, and bears, while Monkman’s installation Starvation Table (2017) depicts the ravages of colonial greed. One end of the dining table is dressed with items obtained from various museum collections — fine china, silverware, and table settings filled with fruit and wine — which gives way to the opposite end of simple platters and plates filled with nothing more than bison bones.
The exhibition also includes a modern-day urban setting where an Indigenous spirituality is evoked to protect against the contemporary dangers of assault, inequality, and despair. In Monkman’s series of paintings set in his native city of Winnipeg, including Struggle for Balance (2013), Bad Medicine (2014), and Le Petit déjeuner sur l’herbe (2014), the artist depicts battles between Indigenous spirit animals such as bears and eagles and the hardship of contemporary life, often including violence, poverty, and crime. Here, women are depicted as flattened, Picasso-esque figures, representing the continued violence against them.
Lauded for his fearless commentary on critical issues relating to life for Indigenous people in Canada, Toronto-based Monkman is one of Canada’s best-known contemporary artists. As an artist, he has had solo exhibitions at numerous Canadian museums including the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto, Winnipeg Art Gallery, and Art Gallery of Hamilton. In 2019, he unveiled two new works at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, where he was praised for having “flipped a conventional, disempowering idea of Native victimhood on its head” (The New York Times).
Pre-booked timed-entry tickets to MOA (which includes admission to this exhibition) will be required. Tickets on sale July 21 at: moa.ubc.ca
About MOA (moa.ubc.ca)
The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) is world-renowned for its collections, research, teaching, public programs and community connections. Founded in 1949 in the basement of the Main Library at UBC, its mission is to inspire an understanding of and respect for world arts and cultures. Today, Canada’s largest teaching museum is located in a spectacular Arthur Erickson-designed building overlooking mountains and sea. MOA’s worldwide collections consist of more than 42,000 cultural objects and artworks created in Asia, Africa, Oceania, Europe and the Americas — with a focus on the Pacific Northwest. MOA’s Multiversity Galleries provide public access to more than 9,000 of these objects and artworks. The Audain Gallery and the O’Brian Gallery, MOA’s temporary exhibition spaces, showcase travelling exhibitions, as well as those developed in-house.
MOA presents Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience
Dates: August 6, 2020 to January 3, 2021
Address: Museum of Anthropology
University of British Columbia
6393 NW Marine Drive, Vancouver, BC