National Post

Why I couldn’t resist buying the controvers­ial Kent Monkman painting

Turns colonial narrative on its head

- HOWARD LEVITT Employment lawyer Howard A. Levitt writes a legal column for Financial Post.

When I received a note from Jon Kay last Wednesday, “You should buy this painting,” I knew I had to move fast.

A scandal was embroiling Canada’s most prominent artist, Kent Monkman, whose paintings now adorn the lobby of New York’s Metropolit­an Museum of Art ( Monkman’s the only Canadian to ever have an exhibition there). And, when scandals arise, opportunit­ies follow. Kay knew that I would be interested since he saw, at a dinner party, prominentl­y displayed in my home, Monkman’s Miss Chief ’s Wet Dream, a large and powerful piece, violent and erotic, displaying prominent mythologic­al and historical Caucasians — Jesus Christ, Napoleon, Marie Antoinette and more — in a raft, at war with a canoe of equally prominent Aboriginal leaders in a raging, tumultuous ocean.

Kay’s email was my introducti­on to Monkman’s latest work, Hanky Panky, about which The New York Times commented ( happily after my purchase) “If Mr. Monkman had previously been on the margins of the country’s cultural wars, his latest painting has tugged him into its centre.”

I called Monkman, who I know, and whose large paintings invariably cost six figures, hoping for a “deal.” Unfortunat­ely none was to be had. If anything, the scandal has increased the Cree artist’s already heady prominence, adding a highlight of notoriety.

Having enjoyed participat­ing in lots of other wars, I could not resist being in the midst of this cultural one now riveting Canadian communitie­s.

The painting has attracted the ire of the politicall­y correct, including many in the Aboriginal community, for having turned the historical narrative on its head, with Aboriginal women looking gleefully on, and former Canadian PMS more solemnly so, at Monkman’s alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, giving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau his own comeuppanc­e in a, let me say, sexually provocativ­e pose.

The cancel- culture warriors have decried a depiction of Aboriginal­s showing great merriment at what they perceive as the debasement of white leaders. Monkman, who was forced to somewhat apologize for the political firestorm, in part to protect the Aboriginal models he was using who were being personally attacked for participat­ing, said he had actually intended to indicate consent ( on Trudeau’s part) and that the prime minister does have a half grin in the painting. Monkman selected the name, Hanky Panky, as a reflection on the “nature of the character, the exuberant laughter of the Indigenous women and the trickery and deceit of each successive colonial government since Canadian Confederat­ion.”

In any event, given my own background, I could easily appreciate the motif, an “eye for an eye.”

Monkman’s painting has its Aboriginal defenders. Sen. Murray Sinclair noted “Kent Monkman has produced another monumental testament to the treatment of Indigenous women and the public’s lack of caring. I wish people were as shocked and angered at that visual as they are at Monkman’s portrayal of it.”

I think that the painting is mischievou­s, fun, and turns the colonial narrative on its head. I object to this straitjack­eting of minority artists by members of their own group telling them how they should paint and think. It seems the higher one goes up the hierarchy of the “oppressed,” with Aboriginal­s even transcendi­ng trans these days, the “social justice warriors” are proportion­ately ruthless in their criticism and even more prepared to turn on their own. If, for no other reason than showing my support of Monkman against this group of straw men ( and women), I had to buy it.

Kay, in a column on this painting, notes that “it is no coincidenc­e that almost every Canadian whose work is culturally influentia­l outside Canada’s borders — Margaret Atwood, Steven Galloway, Jordan Peterson and Joseph Boydon ( two of whom I do or have acted for and a third I have provided advice to) — has at one time or another attracted a mob of pious nobodies seeking to take them down.”

Whether it was to support Monkman against this mind- and culture-suppressin­g mob, to stand for artists’ ability to turn the world on its head and make us think of life in new ways, or because I loved the painting, or because I knew it will be a great investment, I never hesitated after Kay’s phone call.

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Canadian Cree artist Kent Monkman’s work Hanky Panky.
Canadian Cree artist Kent Monkman’s work Hanky Panky.
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada