Arts & Entertainment
2 min

FILM: Mary is quite contrary

New Kent Monkman short film challenges historic narrative

Credit: Promotional photo
Canadian artist Kent Monkman’s alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, is once again the fierce and fabulous star of a Monkman creation, this time in the short film Mary, which is showing at Toronto’s imagineNATIVE festival.
Monkman, who is of Cree ancestry, says he uses Miss Chief, a self-centred diva, to interrupt and challenge historic narratives largely dominated by European colonization.

The film, like much of his work, employs an intuitively dark religious twist in its critique of the relationship between natives and European colonizers.

“The influence of the church on aboriginal people inspired me to work with biblical allegories,” says Monkman, who chose the allegory of Mary Magdalene washing the feet of Christ with her hair because “It made me think of the idea of surrender in relation to the treaties.”
Following on his exhibition My Treaty Is With the Crown at Concordia University in Montreal last spring, Monkman’s film questions the motive behind the Crown’s relationships with natives.
“When they were signing the treaties they didn’t think they were surrendering their land, they thought they were sharing,” he says.
Monkman makes this subject significant to today’s reality by presenting himself as Miss Chief, donned in a red sequin dress and feathered leather boots, holding the foot of a white anonymous symbol of power. “A lot of the themes I’m addressing aren’t logged off in the dust of history,” he says.
Monkman is inspired by the berdache role in native American history, what is contemporarily known as two-spirited. He wants to re-insert the aboriginal narrative of this tradition back into history, “It was decimated,” he says.
Monkman says Europeans feared men who could assume other sexual roles in their tribal societies (a fear that is still present today; most recently on display in a transphobic ad campaign put out by the Institute for Canadian Values).
Miss Chief, a modern fashionista, stars in a number of Monkman’s interdisciplinary artworks.
“Because I’m gay it’s hugely important that sexuality is part of the human experience,” says Monkman.
He has thus turned himself into a living breathing artistic character that jumps from acrylic on canvas to digital film and pokes fun at how aboriginal history was subjectively and poorly documented.  
Originally from Winnipeg, Monkman has exhibited widely within Canada, and is well represented in numerous private and public collections, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Woodland Cultural Centre, and the Canada Council Art Bank.
The Deets: 

Monkman’s The Art Game is at the Toronto Art Fair from Oct 27-31. 
A free screening of Mary premieres as part of Broken Promises: Shorts Program II  
imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival
TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 1
Oct 23 at 2:45pm