Analysis of Kent Monkman’s Performance and Visual Art Interventions
As an artist who believes in retelling history as opposed to blaming the colonizers, Monkman is an artist who uses specific personas in his paintings in the attempt to retell the native’s own version of events. There has been a gross misrepresentation of the native culture and identity by certain popular artists, who could have used the pedestal or platform of their art to tell the actual story, but instead used their positions for self-grandeur. Christianity perceived the native cultural practices as either laughable of deviant hence suppressed them. Consequently, the natives themselves began to deny their own culture and suppress themselves.
Monkman’s arguments are mainly based on the sexuality of the Natives, and how the colonialists portrayed them as being ‘on the brink of extinction’, as well as the contributions of colonialism to the long-held perception of the native Indian by the white community. The artist attacks the works of two famous painters in which they portray Canada as being an uninhabited land, an element that grossly undermines the very existence of the Native Indians. According to him, even though Caitlin through his works might have sounded the death knell for the Native Indians race, a renaissance is possible if only the natives retell their stories.
The artist further argues that the native Indian was grossly misrepresented and he uses a rather surreal method, packaged in the form of a ‘two spirited’ character to clearly illustrate this notion. With works that combine humor and irony, Monkman challenges established artists like Catlin. The artist immerses himself in his art by inventing a character who has a conflicting gender in order to portray his mixed heritage and the revered ‘two spirited men’ of the native Indians’ culture. The essay further argues that the white colonialists dominated over the Native Indians.
As a concept, sexuality is given much weight in Monkman’s works and through his pieces of art, he addresses the sexuality of the natives. The ‘two spirited man’ can be perceived as a depiction of a suppressed side of the natives’ sexuality. Even though the majority of the native tribes commonly practiced homosexuality, they had to suppress this with the advent of Colonialism and Christianity, as these institutions considered non-heterosexual sexual relations as deviant. While he depicts the whites as simply dressed in the loin cloths, Monkman portrays Share as a sexually charged character.
The theme of misrepresentation is recurrent in Monkman’s arguments because it is central to his work and beliefs. Despite the fact that George Catlin and Albert Bierdstadt believe that they are the sole artists who have the opportunity to record the native people’s accounts and the verge of their extinction, they misuse their opportunity and portray the natives as “doomed savages” belonging to dying tribes.
Monkman must have intended to spearhead renaissance when he created the character of Share. Whilst her name is a depiction of the sexual undertones that she must carry with her everywhere she goes, her domination of the white man is apparent and her outfit boasts of the latest brands in the fashion industry. Share does not suppress her sexuality and a clear indication of the Renaissance in Monkman;s works are depicted through the physical incarnation of Share’s Testickles and the use of light.
Reflections on the contribution of the article to sexuality studies
Since Share uses both sides to dominate, s/he is the perfect blend of hyper-femininity and masculine authority. This is the portrayal of sexuality as an instrument that can be used in domination and Foucault states that sexuality can be used as atool that can offer a lot of maneuversas well as a launchpad for diverse strategies. Yet Monkman uses this tool is used to right the wrongs of imperial machinations and and the same time invent a new identity for the native Indians, ultimately creating a platform through which they can reinvent themselves. He does this by reinventing the status of Two-Spirited people (Swanson, 2005.Pp 9).
Studies on sexuality can use Monkman’s pieces of art as a tool to decolonize and demystify Native sexuality especially considering that the current perceptions of Native Indians and their sexuality are mere constructs of imperialists and a wrongful depiction of them.
The Two-Spirit, is an embodiment of the male and female spirit hosted in one body and advocates for the acknowledgement of sexual orientations besides heterosexuality.The Native gay community has embraced the term “Two Spirit” and popularized it because it has brought a level of acceptance of this group even among heterosexuals.
The works are evidence of the infusion of sexuality and identity. As such, by suppressing the sexuality of the natives and therefore resulted in the loss of identity of the Native Indian communities. Christian imperialists quickly suppressed the diverse sexual practices of the Native people the repercussions of such suppression are clear. Due to the denial of the existence of homosexuality existed amongst the diverse native tribes that interacted with the white Christian cultures, anthropologists were unable to record this diversity as they feared severe punishment (Swanson, 2005, pp 11).
Therefore, Monkman’s art also offer lessons on the Renaissance of native sexuality. In his art pieces, Monkman uses light to convey the message of re-emergence of the Natives identity through their sexuality.
Looking at Monkman’s works, it seems that he was fighting conflicting natures within himself, even as he tried to retell the story of the native Indian. This is depicted when he plays the role of the imperialist on one hand, while his alter-ego, which he controls, is the depiction of a strong and confident native who makes the white colonialists bid to her whims. Despite this, he displays the native as clad in Louis Vuitton and Hudson Bay accessories and therefore this can be perceived as a deliberate alteration, that executes exactly what Monkman intended to fight- the misrepresentation of the native Indian.
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Swanson,Kerry.The Noble Savage Was a Drag Queen: Hybridity and Transformation in Kent Monkman’s Performance and Visual Art Interventions. E-misferica 2.2 (2005) Available online at http://hemi.nyu.edu/journal/2_2/swanson.html