This painting by Kent Monkman currently on exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery is one that rivets most visitors. It is called The Scream and I’ve witnessed more than a few tears from people viewing it. It shows indigenous children torn away from their parents by RCMP officers, nuns and priests. They are being taken to residential schools. A few of the children are trying to escape or run away. Some of the fathers and men of the community have been knocked unconscious and the women and children are terrified about what is happening.
Kent has dedicated the painting to his grandmother Elizabeth Monkman who was a survivor of the Brandon Residential School here in Manitoba. He says it was only on her deathbed that his grandmother spoke about the suffering and abuse she had experienced at the school.
An art critic writing in Muskrat Magazine says the woman at the centre of the painting
is reminiscent of Dorthea Lange’s famous Migrant Mother photo.
Monkman’s The Scream is part of the permanent collection of the Denver Art Museum. They purchased it in 2017 and in their description of the painting they mention that Kent Monkman was inspired by a work by Peter Paul Rubens called Massacre of the Innocents which depicts the Biblical account of all the baby boys in Bethlehem being killed on the orders of King Herod.
In his notes about The Scream Kent talks about how the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 informed and enlightened many Canadians who didn’t really understand the devastation wrought by residential schools. Thousands of children never returned home from the schools because they were dead or missing. Thousands were sexually and physically abused, some starved, most forced into free labour and some used in medical experiments. Children were required to sever their ties with their language and culture during their time in the schools.
Kent says the trauma the schools inflicted continues to impact indigenous families today. He asks questions about whether our country can heal, reconcile and offer restitution for the thousands of lives shattered by the residential school system.
On his Facebook page, Kent displays another similar painting called The Scoop. The Sixties Scoop is a name given to the practice in Canada from the 1950s to 1980s of taking, or “scooping up”, Indigenous children from their families and communities for placement in foster or adoptive homes.
In a video Kent Monkman made for the exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery he says that sometimes art needs to take us to dark and challenging places. His painting The Scream does exactly that.
The Scream is only one of the many thought-provoking works in the current Kent Monkman exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery called Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience. You don’t want to miss it.