Political art in Winnipeg: Shame and Prejudice and Bang Bang

It’s amazing what you can see in 38 hours in Winnipeg. I’ll start with seeing two of Minnesota’s greatest exports – Lily and Kate. But we also got to sneak in some serious art.

Kent Monkman’s Shame and Prejudice

Aine and I spent a quick morning at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and their latest exhibit, Kent Monkman’s Shame and Prejudice. It’s a look back at Canadian history from present to 150 years before the Confederation from a First Nation perspective. Monkman is Cree and Irish. He is unafraid of controversy. His work on Shame and Prejudice is subtle and powerful – to use a phrase from one of my favorite Canadian TV shows – it’s very sneak attack.

The work draws from art styles of the period represented in the retrospective. And each segment of the show includes examples of art from the era to help the viewer make the connection to nuanced allusions. Many of the works feature a cameo of the artist, like Alfred Hitchcock except Monkman presents as his alter-ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle like a guide through the eras.

Somehow he captures the vulnerability and power of the feminine perspective – especially in a work like The Daddies. I saw this work a day after the famous image of Speaker Nancy Pelosi scolding Donald Trump for a tantrum in committee. Two striking similarities – the prevalence of males in the room, the dominance of the feminine power and the confusion of the men unable to comprehend or respect it. There are many more layers of the image in The Daddies but again given the timing, it was difficult to not make the connection.

I’m still distilling my reactions to the work – it’s a view of dominant culture from the eyes of nondominant member. I am acutely aware of how that looks from the feminine perspective and have only a third person view of the Native lens. I am most touched on how the feminine is both powerful and dismissed. Also – my knowledge of Canadian history is possible one page ahead of the typical American’s knowledge. But I’ve spent enough time on reservations and learning about Native communities to recognize some similar themes.

The picture that struck me most was The Subjugation of Truth. Sadly it reminds me of paintings that was very recently taken down from the walls of the Minnesota State Capitol. One MN picture is that they showed a treaty signing with so many moving pieces in the picture, it looked like a Richard Scary book. What it really showed was the Native leaders signing a treaty that gave the military or politicians land and then being led to a second document that outlines payment plan, which included retroactively charging Natives for services they didn’t need or know they were buying. If you take away the shackles on the ankles of Native in Monkman’s picture, this could be taken from that work.

I could look at Monkman’s picture for hours. Look at the resolute dignity in the Natives. The subtle and not-so-subtle intimidation. The shackles. The painting of the queen in blue, looking an awful lot like a very masculine Monkman in a dress.

After our visit we joined Lily for her radio show – Shradio. We played a few Minnesota songs a few from Winnipeg and a couple of the girls’ favorites. We stopped into the art gallery at University of Winnipeg briefly. They had an awesome show that depicted Native women as super heroes. I didn’t get a picture but each hero had baseball card-style card that featured their stats. Only these cards were gorgeously beaded. Never mind a driver’s license, which should each have a super hero card that reminds us of what are talents are.

We hung out for the afternoon, eventually went for a fantastic meal at the Peasant Cookery. (French peasant food in a warm cozy settle is awesome, who knew?) And then we headed to the theater.

Bang Bang by Kat Sandler

Bang Bang is about a black, woman police officer who shot a black youth in a traffic stop in Canada. It’s a story she didn’t tell, instead a white man read some details and wrote a play about her. In this play, the playwright come to talk to the police office, who has lost her job and moved in with her mother to warn her that the play is about to become a movie – starring a Disney star with a catch phrase. The entirety of the play takes place in the mother’s living room. It touches on upon every hot topic in the headlines today.

It’s often an uncomfortable show to watch because it does hit so many hot buttons. Luckily there’s enough humor to offer a respite from the darkness. The preparedness of the police officer is raised, the foolishness of the kid shot to disregard the orders given by the cop, systemic racial bias on top of the author’s appropriation of a story that isn’t is. And when does storytelling become appropriation. And then on top again is the personal stories and ambitions of the characters as they balance with societal changes and progress. Lots of good questions pretty evenly raised; no answers.

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