“Monkman’s grand commission delivers a powerful—and visually spectacular—corrective to widespread, even systematic erasure of Indigenous lives, perspectives, and experiences from art history and museum collections,” added Sheena Wagstaff, The Met’s Leonard A. Lauder Chairman of Modern and Contemporary Art. “Like so many of the European and American history paintings he deftly references, mistikôsiwak is operatic in both scale and content, filled with pain and misery, but also joy and triumph in equal measure. At the same time, he also brilliantly walks the line between gravely serious subject matter and a touch of camp, through the presence of his alter-ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, who leads the charge to a better future in sky-high Christian Louboutin stilettos.”
Donald R. Sobey, Chair of the Donald R. Sobey Foundation, commented, “I am profoundly delighted to see this critically important Canadian work enter the collection of one of the world’s leading museums. I feel tremendous pride that Kent’s triumphant response to The Met collection through this commission addresses continental questions that have been generations in the making. Having a permanent home in The Metropolitan Museum of Art will mean that this work can continue to provoke more meaningful discussion on the enduring issues that are the result of our colonial past.”
About mistikôsiwak (Wooden Boat People)—Welcoming the Newcomers and Resurgence of the People
Like much of the multimedia artist’s work, Kent Monkman’s two paintings reinterpret images, motifs, and techniques from art history to assert Indigenous experiences and histories, thereby subverting predominate narratives of Euro-American culture, while also bringing present-day issues to the fore. Featuring numerous references to works in The Met collection, particularly paintings and sculptures that promote the 19th-century romantic myth of the “Vanishing Race,” the two paintings that comprise mistikôsiwak (Wooden Boat People)—Welcoming the Newcomers and Resurgence of the People—evoke the relationship between peoples native to Turtle Island—an Indigenous name for North America—and settler cultures, both past and present. Welcoming the Newcomers captures the early stages of European colonization while asserting the injurious aspects of these encounters, including the onset of disease, religious oppression, and the proliferation of trans-Atlantic slavery. Recalling recent poignant images of precarious, but heroic migrant vessels, Resurgence of the People testifies to the resilience of Indigenous peoples in the face of systemic white supremacy and climate change. Prominent in each of the compositions is the larger-than-life figure of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Monkman’s shape-shifting, time-traveling alter ego who embodies “Two Spirit” traditions of various Indigenous communities embracing non-binary gender and plural sexualities. Miss Chief, whose name plays on the words mischief and egotistical, also parallels the Cree trickster figure who challenges conventional beliefs and wisdom in traditional stories.