Jackman Humanities Institute supports premiere of Kent Monkman’s stunning new exhibition at
U of T’s Art Museum.
When Cree artist Kent Monkman was invited to mark Canada 150 with an exhibition at U of T’s Art Museum three years ago, he jumped at the opportunity.
“This is a moment to reflect on the last 150 years and what it means to Indigenous peoples,” he explained to attendees at a packed artist-led tour in February 2017.
Monkman embarked on a lengthy research process to explore Indigenous and Canadian historical art and artefacts within museums across the country, and acted as both artist and curator for the exhibition. The result is a visceral and moving critique of Canada’s colonial history. His own paintings, drawings and sculptural works appeared in the exhibition alongside historical artefacts and art works.
One of Monkman’s primary aims was to capture and authorize Indigenous experiences that were essentially erased from Canadian art history. “Many of the things you see in this exhibition have never been depicted in art history: the removal of children, the incarceration of chiefs, sickness and disease in our communities. These are things that are part of Canada’s past but have never been authorized in our history,” he said.
Made possible in part by the Department of Canadian Heritage as well as the Jackman Humanities Institute, among many other generous supporters, the exhibition attracted more than 20,000 visitors, from as far afield as Vancouver and Halifax. “It’s a sign of the urgency and timeliness of the subject and the following that Kent has across the country,” said Barbara Fischer, Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Art Museum at the University of Toronto, who commissioned the exhibition. She was particularly impressed with the diversity of the audience, and with the great number of teachers attending the exhibit with elementary, secondary and post-secondary classes.
For visitors, this was a stark re-visioning of the settler-indigenous relationship, and the image of its history over the past 300 years.
“Centuries of prejudice and racism course through the depositories of the country’s images and stories, and Kent’s project is a momentous part of the transformation of that history, how it can and must be shown differently,” Fischer said. “Ultimately, the exhibition exemplifies a way of decolonizing history, and sets up a different basis for nation-to-nation relations.”
The impact of what Maclean’s magazine has described as “the year’s most talked about art exhibit” will be felt for many years to come, as it moves from coast to coast on a national tour.
Story by Phil Boughton
BEST IN SHOW:
(top) Le Petit dejeuner sur l’herbe by Kent Monkman. (middle) The Scream by Kent Monkman shown during the exhibition. Images courtesy of the artist.