Fashion, Symbolism and Radical Imagery

In Conversation with Kent Monkman

June 1st, 3:30pm - 5pm Harbourfront Centre Studio Theatre

Moderated by: Kerry Swanson

Supported by University of Toronto Art Museum

One of Canada’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, Kent Monkman’s work strategically employs fashion tropes and a camp aesthetic to upend colonial mythologies and insert the queer Indigenous presence that has been erased from the dominant national narrative.  Channeling his alter-ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Monkman has challenged ideas of gender and the commodification of Indigenous cultures, and ultimately exposed the systemic atrocities against Indigenous peoples that have defined Canada.  His work explores the powerful role of image making and symbolism in shaping new narratives and truth telling.

In this conversation, Kent will discuss the pivotal role of fashion in his work, from his Louis Vuitton quill bag, to his elaborate Miss Chief regalia, and his recent marriage with Jean Paul Gaultier.

Kent Monkman is well known for his provocative reinterpretations of romantic North American landscapes. Themes of colonization, sexuality, loss, and resilience – the complexities of historic and contemporary Indigenous experience – are explored in a variety of mediums, including painting, film/video, performance, and installation. His glamorous diva alter-ego Miss Chief appears in much of his work as an agent provocateur, trickster, and supernatural being, who reverses the colonial gaze, upending received notions of history and Indigenous people. With Miss Chief at centre stage, Monkman has created memorable site specific  performances at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, The Royal Ontario Museum, The Smithsonian’s National

Museum of the American Indian, Compton Verney, and most recently at the Denver Art Museum. His award-winning short film and video works have been screened at various national and international festivals, including the 2007 and 2008 Berlinale, and the 2007 and 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. Many of his media works are made with his long-time collaborator, Gisèle Gordon.

Monkman’s second national touring solo exhibition, Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience will visit museums across Canada until 2020.  Monkman has been awarded the Egale Leadership Award (2012), the Indspire Award (2014), the Hnatyshyn Foundation Visual Arts Award (2014), the Bonham Centre Award (2017) and an honorary doctorate degree from OCAD University (2017). His work has been exhibited internationally and is widely represented in the collections of major Museums in Canada and the USA. 

Moderator: Kerry Swanson is a seasoned arts professional with over fourteen years of experience leading change for Indigenous artists. She has worked in leadership roles at the Ontario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council, where she created and launched new programs including the Indigenous Culture Fund and the TAC Leaders Lab. Kerry is the former Executive Director of the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, where she worked for six years of extraordinary growth and innovation and where she is now Chair of the Board of Directors. She was co-curator of the exhibition Shapeshifters, Time Travelers and Storytellers at the ROM, co-editor of the book Code Territories: Tracing Indigenous Pathways in New Media Art and co-author of the report Indigenous Feature Film Production in Canada: A National and International Perspective. She also worked as Producer on the award-winning film The Underground, directed by Michelle Latimer. Kerry has a Masters in Communication and Culture from Ryerson and York Universities, where her thesis paper on the artist Kent Monkman was nominated for a Governor General’s Silver Medal.

Kerry was born and raised in Chapleau, northern Ontario, in a family of Cree/Ojibwe, Irish and French heritage. She is a member of the Michipicoten First Nation, with familial ties to the Chapleau Cree First Nation.