Art for change

These works make visible what has been excluded in Canadian History, says Kent Monkman.

Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience is Kent Monkman’s solo exhibition at the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology (MOA) that highlights the Indigenous perspective on Canada’s founding history. It contains roughly 80 works and provides both a searing critique of Canada’s colonial policies over the past 150 years and a way to create empathy today for Indigenous peoples’ experiences in the past and in the present.

“Creating this exhibition was an opportunity to educate people and create art that could move people, create awareness, and inform. It means I am entering the dialogue to encourage people to think differently about Canada,” says Monkman, a Canadian artist of Cree, English, and Irish descent. He is known for his classic representational Romantic landscape and history paintings, films, installations, and performance works, and is lauded for his fearless commentary on issues related to Indigenous people in Canada.

An important narrative

“Monkman created this exhibition to show that Indigenous people in Canada are still experiencing intergenerational trauma from the ongoing effects of colonialism: removal from lands, confinement to reserves, and a loss of access to natural resources causing lasting structural inequalities such as poverty, ill-health, poor housing, unclean drinking water; the death of children, Indigenous languages, and cultures due to Indian residential schools, theft of children due to the 60s scoop; over-representation in Canadian prisons; violence against Indigenous women girls,” says Jennifer Kramer, MOA Curatorial Liaison.

According to Kramer, the exhibition is narrated by Monkman’s alter ego, gender-bending, time-travelling, trickster Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. Museum visitors walk through the nine themed chapters excerpted from Miss Chief’s memoirs to tell a narrative of Indigenous-Colonial relations over 300 years. They begin in the 18th-century with “New France: Reign of the Beaver” and end in the 21st century with “Urban Rez,” life in Winnipeg’s North End.

“Themes covered include Abundance and Poverty; Incarceration on reserves, in Indian residential schools, and prisons; Sickness and Healing; Christianity and Indigenous Spirituality; Indigenous Hope and Resilience,” says Kramer.

To create this exhibition, Monkman searched Canadian art galleries and museum collections to show artifacts of the colonial encounter. The objects include Chief Poundmaker’s moccasins, beaded leatherwork made by children at an Indian residential school in Saskatchewan, and a British officer’s silver military gorget bearing a beaver. He combined these artifacts with historical Euro-Canadian paintings and his own paintings and installations.

“These works make visible what has been excluded in Canadian history paintings that celebrate Canada’s creation,” explains Kramer. For example, the Starvation Table is a three-dimensional installation that moves from a time of abundance with Euro-Canadian china and silver filled with food and wine to a time of poverty and forced treaty-making represented by simple plates with only buffalo bones.

Through his pieces, “Monkman exposes the trauma imposed by colonial settlers and the Canadian government on Indigenous people,” says Kramer. “The exhibition corrects the Canadian romantic landscape painting a tradition displaying wildlands open for wealth extraction alongside the trope of the ‘Disappearing Indian’ narrative that has been promoted by nationalist history and re-inserts Indigenous lives and truths into the art historical canon.”

Looking toward the future

“The exhibition offers a rich and multi-layered reading of history that hopes for a future of not only reconciliation but also restitution for Indigenous people in Canada,” says Kramer.

According to Monkman, “reconciliation doesn’t mean anything until it comes with restitution…for words are empty and meaningless. Reconciliation will start when there is restitution – real acts towards Indigenous sovereignty, towards Indigenous people not being wards of the Canadian state.”

The exhibition will run from Aug. 6, 2020–Jan. 3, 2021, at the Museum of Anthropology. For more information, please visit: