The painting The Scream has been all over social media since the recent discovery of a mass grave at a former residential school site in Kamloops. Unfortunately, the Canadian artist Kent Monkman is often not credited in these postings for his stirring and graphic portrayal of children being torn away from their families and taken to residential school.
As a tour guide, I had the privilege of introducing The Scream to hundreds of visitors who viewed the painting when it was on exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2019-2020. Although the images in the artwork speak volumes on their own, people were interested in learning more about the painting.
Did you know that………
1. The artwork is dedicated to Kent Monkman’s grandmother Elizabeth Monkman who was a survivor of the Brandon Residential School in Manitoba. The first time she spoke about her experience at the school was on her deathbed.
2. The artist who created The Scream Kent Monkman spent the early years of his childhood on the Shamattawa First Nation in northern Manitoba where his parents were Christian missionaries. His father Everet Monkman was a member of the Fisher River First Nation and his mother Rilla Unger was of Anglo-Irish descent. The family moved to Winnipeg when Kent was six. He lived in River Heights and he went to school there graduating from Kelvin High School. He took art classes at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
3. One of Monkman’s inspirations for The Scream was an artwork from the 17th century by Peter Paul Rubens called Massacre of the Innocents. It depicts a Biblical story where King Herod slaughters all the baby boys in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the infant Jesus.
4. In his notes about The Scream Monkman says the painting tells us in a visual way what was found in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015. Monkman says that report enlightened many Canadians who didn’t know about the devastation wrought by residential schools. Thousands of children never returned home 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.
5. The title of Monkman’s The Scream alludes to an iconic painting by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.
6. Monkman created The Scream by bringing actors into his studio in Toronto who dressed up in costumes and acted out the scenes we see in painting. Thousands of photographs were taken and then some were selected, edited and cropped and finally projected onto a canvas where their silhouettes were traced and then painstakingly filled in with layer after layer of colour. You can learn more about Monkman’s process here.
7. One art critic says the face of the woman at the heart of The Scream
is reminiscent of the face of the woman in Dorthea Lange’s famous photograph Migrant Mother.
8. There are hundreds of details in The Scream that careful study can reveal. Almost every time I took a group of gallery visitors to see the painting someone would find something new or come up with a new idea of why something had been included in the painting.
9. The actual painting The Scream is 7 feet by 11 feet. It was purchased by the Denver Art Museum in 2017.
10. Kent Monkman has done a painting related to The Scream 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.
It is understandable why Kent Monkman’s The Scream has become the signature image for illustrating the tragic truth uncovered at the residential school in Kamloops. I just wish people knew more about the artist and had more information about his moving and thought-provoking masterpiece.