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Kent Monkman to unveil Two Ships at 6 Degrees Citizen Space

Photos by Karin Chykaliuk
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Kent Monkman is standing in front of an exceptionally large painting.  Standing 12 feet high and 24 feet wide, the canvas towers over the artist, who is unfazed by the scale of his latest — and largest — experiment. “History paintings were typically made very large,” he says. “The impact of a painting when it’s very large — it has a very powerful effect.”

Monkman is talking about Two Ships, a monumental history painting he will be unveiling at 6 Degrees Citizen Space 2017 in conjunction with 360: Bridges, our session on building alliances between Indigenous peoples and newcomers to Canada. The painting is a visual commentary on the complexity of contact between Indigenous peoples and European settlers. The painting, which is the largest Monkman has ever attempted, was completed over two years, with the help of three assistants.

Monkman, a visual and performance artist of Cree ancestry, is no stranger to dismantling European settler narratives of history; he is known for his interventions into European traditions of painting, inserting Indigenous histories and perspectives into a settler colonial visual narrative that has erased them. Earlier this year, Monkman created Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience, an exhibition featuring original work alongside historical and cultural artifacts, reflecting on the last 300 years of settler colonialism from an Indigenous perspective.

In Two Ships, Monkman is creating a visual depiction of the Two Row Wampum Treaty, an agreement between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch that signaled a policy of mutual non-interference. In an indictment of the failure of North American governments to honour treaties, the painting will depict two vessels — a war canoe and a European vessel — colliding violently. With Monkman’s characteristic layering of references, the two vessels will each feature mythical, historical, and contemporary figures who comment on, engage with, and witness the action — including the artist’s famous alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle.

For Monkman, the word inclusion indexes the inclusion of Indigenous histories and perspectives in European settler tellings of history.  “There have been very few history paintings made about Indigenous histories that have not been through the lens of the European artist,” he says. “So for me it was really about authorizing Indigenous histories into the canon of art history.”

He hopes, as always, that his art will communicate an Indigenous perspective to his audience, and disrupt their experience of Western art. “The whole point is for my audience to gain understanding, to gain some awareness about an Indigenous perspective,” says Monkman.  “And to hopefully educate people, to have people have an emotional experience, maybe even a transcendent experience with the art that I make. I think art has the power to do that.”

Two Ships will be on display at the AGO exclusively from September 26 to 27 as part of 6 Degrees Citizen Space. Monkman will be in conversation with art critic Sarah Milroy, AGO curator Wanda Nanibush, author Bernhard Schlink and ICC Co-founder and Co-chair, John Ralston Saul following 360: Bridges, our session on building alliances between Indigenous peoples and newcomers to Canada. On Tuesday, September 26 from 3:30-5 pm, come see Monkman’s visionary new work and ask the artist questions as he discusses Two Ships, his artistic practice, and the current conversation on reconciliation. For admission, buy a one-day pass.

6 Degrees Citizen Space 2017 takes place from September 25 to 27.