Artist Kent Monkman’s body of work puts the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and colonialism, front and centre.
Monkman’s paintings explore themes like sexuality, incarceration, residential schools, violence against Indigenous women.
His latest exhibition, Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience, has toured to six cities and is now at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
Monkman grew up in Winnipeg. CBC Indigenous took him to Winnipeg’s North End, the inspiration behind his Urban Res series, to talk about the city that shaped him and his work.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What do you love about Winnipeg?
What I love about Winnipeg is that this is my territory. I feel very much like I belong here. My view of the world, everything that I think about, is shaped by being from here. And I’m very proud of that fact. This place has really given me so much in terms of the kind of experience that made me an artist.
What does it mean to be Indigenous in Winnipeg?
A lot of Indigenous people are living and [being] treated — because of the racism that’s here — like second class citizens and that’s something that always bothered me about living in Winnipeg. Why are we treated like second class citizens in our own territory?
Another reason for making these paintings was to remind the rest of the country that places like Winnipeg were gathering places for Indigenous people, so this is Indigenous territory as much as any other place. And yet people live in substandard conditions and there’s lateral violence here and in this part of the city there’s a visible difference between how Indigenous people live and how non-Indigenous people live.
Do you carry your Indian status card?
I do. I believe in exercising my treaty rights. And I think it’s important that we all exercise our treaty rights, if we have treaty rights, that we should be using them daily as a reminder to people that we are in treaty. We are in treaty with this country, with the Crown, and we are in treaty relationships with the settler cultures.
What do you think it means to be a warrior?
I think of a warrior as being someone fighting for something that they believe in. Fighting for something to make change, to create change. I think we have a lot of warriors in our community that are fighting for change. And those are the people that are leading us in cultural ways, but also artists and political leaders and they’re kind of on the frontlines and that’s what I think.
What are you fighting for?
My work is about trying to change how this country is representing Indigenous people and how this country thinks about its own history within the context of the museum and the art world. Up until very recently, museums have excluded Indigenous perspectives from the story about this country. We’re part of the story of this country, it’s just that that story that exists in our museums has been told by the settler cultures that came here.
So a lot of what I fight for is changing that and getting Indigenous points of view into the museums so that we become part of that story and how that story is told.