Where: Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queen’s Park
When: October 8, 2022 to March 19, 2023
Cost: Tickets are included with general admission to ROM and can be purchased at www.rom.on.ca
Details: Acclaimed Cree artist Kent Monkman’s major solo exhibition Being Legendary will open to the public this October. Years in the making, Monkman created this new body of work in direct response to artifacts and natural history specimens in ROM’s permanent collection. Through his paintings and other artworks, Monkman reframes history through his Cree perspective to interrogate the role of museums and ask crucial questions about how collections are presented in the 21st century.
Being Legendary introduces 35 paintings, the majority of which were created for this exhibition, as well as new sculptures and etchings by the artist. Monkman collaborated with ROM to place these artworks in conversation with carefully chosen pieces from the Museum’s collections, ranging from dinosaur fossils to intricately beaded moccasins. Using his alter ego—the gender-fluid, shape-shifting legendary being, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle—Monkman employs his unique painting vocabulary in collaboration with text written in Miss Chief’s voice by long-time writing partner Gisèle Gordon, to present a unique narrative that challenges the dominant Western perspective of history.
With this seminal new exhibition, Kent Monkman presents a powerful reckoning with the colonial past and conventional historical and museum narratives. Being Legendary amplifies Cree worldviews that existed for millennia before the colonial period, and spotlights the incredible resilience of Knowledge Keepers, activists, academics and artists who illuminate our way forward. Being Legendary challenges institutions to consider a new way of thinking that involves Indigenous voices in everything that concerns Indigenous peoples.
Taking visitors on a journey from the earliest beginnings of life in the cosmos through to the present day, Being Legendary shows how Indigenous presence on Turtle Island goes back many thousands of years longer than settler-held theories of Indigenous inhabitation. Monkman references Cree cosmology and legendary beings in his paintings with a liberal dose of artistic licence and his distinctive humour. He retells the history of Turtle Island through the story of Miss Chief and her fellow Cree legendary beings, challenging the colonial version of history with a Cree perspective reinforced by a text narrative as told by Miss Chief in the first person.
Interruptions of knowledge through colonial violence such as the forced removal of children to residential schools are addressed, but the focus is on the continuation of wisdom, language, and culture. Monkman’s lushly painted canvases, displayed alongside fossils, bones, and a meteorite from ROM’s collection, provide context for works such as We Are Made of Stardust. This painting depicts Miss Chief’s origin story, in which her stilettoed human form bursts forth from stardust, leaving a trail of glowing pink cosmic gas high above an emerald halo of Aurora Borealis as she plummets gleefully toward earth.
The glittering, expansive painting Constellation of Knowledge illustrates the depth of Cree knowledge and how, since time immemorial, Indigenous knowledges and sciences have been intrinsically tied to the land and carried in stories, songs, and art. Other works in the exhibition include paintings to honour Indigenous children, their ways of learning and knowing pre-contact, and those who were forcibly taken to residential schools. Portraits of prominent leaders, activists, water walkers, and Knowledge Keepers close out Being Legendary on a powerful, inspiring note.
Accompanying the Being Legendary exhibition will be a catalogue published by the Art Canada Institute in December containing full colour reproductions of the artworks and narrative text. The catalogue also provides deeper context and insight with interviews and essays written by prominent Indigenous writers and scholars such as Wilfred Buck, Keith Goulet, Paulette Steeves, and Luana Harper-Shirt, among others.