Shame and Prejudice

A friend on Facebook posted an image that prompted me to look up the painter to learn more.

In Shame and Prejudice, Kent Monkman paints missing Indigenous images into history

As UBC’s Museum of Anthropology gets used to welcoming visitors again, it’s opening a major new show—one that shakes up the very foundations of Canada.

On the final stop of a cross-country tour that kicked off in 2017, Cree artist Kent Monkman’s provocative Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience finally arrives in Vancouver.

The painting in question:

“This was an opportunity to ask Canadians to think about what 150 years have meant to Indigenous people, and reframe it through my own lens,” the artist says, speaking to the Straight from his studio in Prince Edward County, on Ontario’s picturesque Bay of Quinte, where the largely Toronto-based Monkman has been holed up for most of the quarantine. “Colonial history really intended to remove Indigenous people from view, but also strip us of our culture and our languages.”

Hence stealing Indigenous children to put them in residential schools, to strip them of their culture and languages.

His paintings are presented in the style of the old masters, but capture a history never told by 19th-century paintings: one of killing, starvation, and abduction. The Scream is a deeply distressing tableau of nuns, priests, and red-coated Mounties yanking crying children away to residential school, holding back their distraught mothers—in one case, by grabbing her hair. 

It is distressing, as well as all too familiar. Nuns and priests locked up children in industrial “schools” in Ireland, too, along with locking up women in Magdalen laundries to do slave labour for years for the crime of getting pregnant without being married. Nothing ever happened to the men who got them pregnant of course.

“Over many years, I’ve been looking at that art history, examining it for those gaps in what has been represented and what has been omitted,” he continues. “So, with this project, what I wanted was to depict events, sometimes traumatic, that were erased from history, erased from the education curriculums of most Canadians, who had no idea that residential schools were this experience that Indigenous people had to survive. So many Canadians graduated from university without having any knowledge of residential schools, so it was an opportunity to insert some of these images into this shared art history, which ended up being quite powerful and troubling to many people. But I felt they were necessary to shock and also engage and educate many Canadians, who still remain largely ignorant of many Indigenous experiences. That’s the beauty and power of art.”

It is.

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