Category Archives: winnipeg art gallery

A Different Kind of Nativity Scene

This afternoon I will be giving a group from my church a tour of the Kent Monkman exhibit Shame and Prejudice at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. One of the installations we will spend time looking at is a nativity scene that is part of an area of the exhibit called The Res House. In one of his lectures Kent Monkman explains how in this artwork he has set the birth of Jesus in a house on one of Canada’s First Nations’ reservations. Kent clearly shows the less than ideal condition of the housing. One of the first things you notice is that the Mary, Joseph and Jesus figures all have the same face and it is the face of artist Kent Monkman.  Kent explains that he was visiting the Natural History Museum in New York when he realized they had used one male face on all the indigenous mannequins in every single diorama, no matter what First Nation they belonged to, or even whether they were male or female.  So Kent thought “well, then I’m just going to put my head on everybody now.”

The baby is lying on a Hudson’s Bay blanket. The arrival of fur trading companies like the Hudson’s Bay in Canada changed the lives of Canada’s indigenous people forever. 

There is Coke in the baby’s bottle.  Could that be because the container of milk on the shelf costs nearly $20 on some reserves? Kent has food on the shelves in the house with their real prices.

In the background you can see a child being taken away to residential school.  Will that be the eventual fate of the new baby? 

There is bottled water in the house- a reference to the fact that there is still a boil water advisory in some Canadian communities and people have to drink bottled water because their water source isn’t clean or safe. 

Joseph is wearing a Chicago Black Hawks jersey and it can start a discussion about how professional sports teams have appropriated indigenous names and symbols.  Kent has replaced the face of the man on the jersey with his alter ego, trickster character Miss Chief who appears in many of Kent’s pieces in the Shame and Prejudice exhibit. 

The Mary figure is holding a rosary in her hand.  Instead of Jesus on the cross, there is a beaver. Beavers with praying hands look heavenward on the top frame of the exhibit which features Latin words that mean Love Conquers All.  

Adoration of the Magi by Jorg Stocker 1510

The placement of this installation is also interesting because just behind it in an adjoining gallery is another nativity scene that is very different from the one Kent has created.  

There are so many details in Kent’s nativity scene to notice and discuss. I think the tour I give my church will be the 15th one of the Monkman exhibit I have led and each time I learn something new from the visitors I show Kent’s work.  I am excited about what the people from my church may find this afternoon. 

Other posts………….


The Scream


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Three Women – Love This Piece

One of my favourite sculptures at the Winnipeg Art Gallery is this one of three ordinary village women in rural Quebec. I think they are either going home from the market with their bags and baskets full of produce or maybe they are going off to the market with things they plan to sell there. They walk with purpose, perhaps into the wind, managing their loads with their strong arms.  The sculpture is called Femmes de Caughnawaga and was made in 1924.  From the way their robes are wrapped around them I like to think it is a chilly autumn day.  Maybe they are hurrying home down a country road to make supper for their families. 

Marc- Aurele de Foy Suzor – Cote in his studio- photo from the McCord Museum

The sculpture was made by Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté a Canadian who travelled to France in the 1890s and studied art in Paris. He returned to Canada in 1907 and used his paintings and sculptures to show the people and landscape of Quebec’s Eastern Townships. The women in this sculpture are from his village. 

Crouching Venus by Pietro Barzanti 1890 is in the same gallery as Femmes de Caughnawaga. 

Three other sculptures in the gallery where Femmes de Caughnawaga is displayed are of idealized women from Greek and Roman mythology.  The sculpture of ordinary Canadian women going about their daily routines in rural Quebec offers a refreshing contrast. 

Look for them the next time you are at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. 

Other posts………..

So Tiny

What’s an Amauti

Talk About Defying Convention

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prayer installationA new exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery by artist James Webb is called Prayer.  The installation is an ongoing project that began in Cape Town South Africa in 2000.  The 10th version currently at the Winnipeg Art Gallery was created in the city of Chicago.  The exhibit consists of dozens and dozens of recordings of prayers spoken by people of many different religious affiliations. There are prayers said by Catholics, Lutherans,  Occultists, Episcopalians, Hindus, Bahai, Presbyterians, Mormons and Methodists.  There are prayers spoken in Buddhist temples, Jewish synagogues, Muslim mosques and evangelical churches. 

james webb prayerVisitors can take off their shoes and walk down the red carpet listening to the prayers arising from all the different speakers or they can sit down in front of one speaker and listen to the variety of prayers emanating from it.

prayer james webbJames Webb is a musician and visual artist from South Africa and has a degree in comparative religions.  As he moves his project to one city after another Webb creates a collaborative community of people from many different faiths and provides a sort of spiritual and religious landscape of that city.  As I experienced the Chicago version of Prayer I thought how interesting it would be to create a similar installation with people from the city of Winnipeg.  

Prayer will be in Winnipeg till May.  Be sure to stop in and experience it on your next visit to the Winnipeg Art Gallery. 

Other posts………..

A Prayer For a Golf Tournament

An Artist’s Prayer

A Prayer for the New Year

Two Artists on Prayer


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Generation Lockdown

The other day I walked into a Winnipeg kindergarten class just as the teacher was instructing the four and five-year-olds in her room about how they should behave during the lockdown drill that was going to happen in a few minutes.  I thought how sad it was that such little children needed to be educated in the steps to take should a dangerous person with deadly intent enter their school building. How did it make them feel ? 

On Wednesday night we went to the Winnipeg Art Gallery for a special showing of the Cannes Lions International Festival film that features all the award-winning advertisements for the past year. One that really made an impression on me was a public service announcement by the organization March For Our Lives.

A school girl instructs warehouse workers in active shooter protocol

It shows a schoolgirl named Kayleigh giving adults in a warehouse work area a training session on how to survive an active shooter event. The employees in the advertisement at first seem a bit amused that a young girl has come to talk to them. But as she solemnly instructs the adults in how to recognize different kinds of gunfire sounds, how to hide from a shooter, how to barricade doorways and ultimately escape by breaking windows, the faces of the people around her register shock and sadness. You can tell they are thinking, “What kind of world do we live in that a little girl needs to know these things?”

The advertisement titled Generation Lockdown reminds viewers that lockdown drills have become commonplace in schools ever since the Columbine High School shooting twenty years ago.

The ad ends by asking people to learn more about a variety of gun control measures being proposed in the United States that would prevent dangerous people from getting guns.  The organization that made the ad says 95% of school kids beginning at age five are now trained in what to do in active shooter situations because they have to be prepared for them to happen at any time. 

You can watch Generation Lockdown here.

You can find out when you can see the Cannes Lions film at the Winnipeg Art Gallery here. 

Other posts……..

Duck and Cover

Best of the Cannes Lions

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Filed under Childhood, Education, winnipeg art gallery

The Scream

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. 

Children at the Brandon Residential School

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. 

Edvard Munch The Scream 1893

The title of the painting references Edvard Munch the Norwegian artist who created an iconic work also called The Scream.

An art critic writing in Muskrat Magazine says the woman at the centre of the painting

Dorthea Lange’s Migrant Mother -1936

is reminiscent of Dorthea Lange’s famous Migrant Mother photo.

Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens- 1611

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. 

 Girls sewing at the St. Bernard Residential School in Grouard Alberta between 1925 and 1935- photo from the Smithsonian Institute – Kent Monkman has included artifacts from this school in his exhibit

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. 

The Scoop by Kent Monkman 2018

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, on the Winnipeg Art Gallery website, Kent Monkman 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. 

Other posts………..

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One area of the current Kent Monkman exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery is titled Incarceration.

Reincarceration by Kent Monkman 2013

This large painting in the section depicts Manitoba’s own Stony Mountain Penitentiary founded in 1877. It is the oldest federal penitentiary still in use in Canada. In the painting wooden, puppet-like figures emerge from the prison, walk through the water and then come to life to take part in a dance or pow-wow on the other side of the river.

Big Bear to the left of the man in the middle and Poundmaker to his right in Stony Mountain Penitentiary

The wall adjacent to the painting features photos of Big Bear and Poundmaker, indigenous leaders who were incarcerated at Stony Mountain Penitentiary for treason after the Northwest Rebellion.

Minimalism by Kent Monkman- 2017

The exhibit includes this installation of Kent Monkman’s alter ego Miss Chief in a prison cell, on her knees, watching the sunrise and set through a window. She is holding a piece of braided sweetgrass in one hand and a feather in the other.
In his commentary, Kent says he wants to draw attention to the large number of indigenous people in Canada’s prisons, particularly on the prairies. At Stony Mountain penitentiary nearly 65 % of the inmates are aboriginal but indigenous people represent only 18% of the province’s population.

Artwork featured in Minimalism by Kent Monkman

On the outer walls of the cell are pieces of artwork by prisoners and a set of letters written to Kent’s mother Rilla from a woman named Lisa Peltier, who is in prison. In one of the letters, she talks about her father Leonard Peltier and how she hopes President Obama will give him a pardon.

Letter to Kent Monkman’s mother from Leonard Peltier’s daughter

Leonard Peltier is a 75-year-old man who was convicted of taking part in the murder of two FBI officers at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. Pine Ridge in South Dakota is home to Wounded Knee, the site of a massacre of 200 Sioux men, women and children by the American army’s 7th Cavalry in 1890.  

Peltier was a member of the American Indian Movement and was part of a nearly three-year occupation at Wounded Knee. It tried to bring attention to the unfair treatment of First Nations people in the United States. A virtual civil war had broken out between the American Indian Movement and traditional First Nations leadership. The AIM said the leadership was corrupt. It was backed and supported by federal agencies including the FBI.

FBI officers came to Pine Ridge in 1975 to arrest a robbery suspect and were met with a torrent of rifle fire. Peltier was given two consecutive life sentences for his participation in the murders. Three other AIM members who went to trial for the murders were acquitted. Peltier maintains his innocence to this day. 

Leonard Peltier in the prison art studio – photo CBC

Desmond Tutu, Jesse Jackson, Amnesty International, Robert Redford and Oliver Stone have all advocated for Leonard and asked he be released immediately from prison. Leonard is elderly and has health problems. His supporters maintain there were many errors and inconsistencies in the way his case was handled. Some of these are highlighted in Peter Matthiessen’s best selling book called In the Spirit of Crazy Horse.

Peter Matthiessen’s book tells Leonard’s story

When Barak Obama was leaving office there was hope he would give Leonard a pardon and Lisa, Leonard’s daughter refers to that in her letter to Kent Monkman’s mother Rilla. Obama decided not to pardon Leonard.

There is another case of an indigenous person’s experience with the justice system included in Kent Monkman’s Incarceration exhibit.

Handcuffs and Leg Irons from the collection of the Museum of Vancouver

These handcuffs and leg irons are artefacts from Canada’s only lynching. Louie Sam was born in 1870 a member of the Fraser River Salish First Nation. When he was 14 he was accused of the murder of James Bell a shopkeeper just across the Canadian border in Nooksack Washington. Two men told the Nooksack sheriff they had seen Louie near Mr Bell’s store on the day of the murder and so the American sheriff came to British Columbia to talk to William Campbell the local justice of the peace at the time. On February 24 Campbell rode out to Louie Sam’s home and arrested him. He put him in handcuffs and leg irons.  Louie was taken to the home of a hastily deputized local citizen named Sam York to spend the night. The next morning Louie was to go to New Westminster some fifty miles away to stand trial.

Drawing of Louie Sam from an Annick Press book trailer

During the night an angry mob of Americans, who were in costumes- some wearing women’s clothing and others with their faces painted with Indian war paint crossed the border into Canada, stormed into the York house and captured Louie Sam. They hung him from a tree close to the U.S. border.

Although more than five thousand lynchings happened in the United States during the post Civil War period Louie Sam’s is the only Canadian lynching on record.

A subsequent investigation by Canadian authorities strongly suggested that Louie Sam was innocent and that the likely murderers were two Americans who were the leaders of the lynch mob. They were William Osterman, the Nooksack telegraph operator who took over Bell’s business, and David Harkness, who at the time of Bell’s murder was living with Bell’s estranged wife. Neither man was ever prosecuted.

The Lynching of Louie Sam a novel by Elizabeth Stewart tells Louie’s story for a teen audience

It has been interesting to discuss the case of fourteen- year old Louie Sam with the teenagers who visit the Kent Monkman show. I ask them why they think Kent chose to include Louie’s handcuffs and leg irons in his exhibit.

Minimalism by Kent Monkman- 2017

Incarceration is just one area of nine in the current Kent Monkman exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. As you can see each area is rich in meaning and well worth multiple visits to explore. Hope to see you there.

Other posts……….

Kent Monkman is From Winnipeg


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Bookish Anticipation- Why Not Join Me For These Book Events?

Much of my life revolves around books. Two upcoming events have me flush with bookish anticipation and excitement. One is the annual Friends of the Library book sale which will take place at Grant Park Highschool next weekend. I recently joined the Board of Directors of the Winnipeg Friends of the Library organization. I helped to found the Friends of the Library group in Steinbach many years ago and thought I’d like to get involved with the organization again. To learn more about the substantial fundraising efforts the group undertakes each year I have gone down a number of times to help at the Friends Book Room in the basement of the St. James Library. Here a dedicated group of volunteers works year-round to sort and organize and pack hundreds of boxes of books for the annual Friends of the Library sale at Grant Park Highschool. The money raised supports, among other things, the wonderful Writer in Residence program at the library. It is a service that has benefitted many fledging Winnipeg writers, including me. I will be volunteering at the Friends of the Library book sale this coming Saturday morning. Come down to say hello and pick up a few books!
I also just purchased the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It will be the book up for discussion at the November 12th Books and Brushes event at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I will be leading that discussion. McNally Robinson Booksellers, co-sponsors the Books and Brushes series with the WAG, and when I purchased my copy of the book there recently, the clerk raved about it to me. I am so looking forward to reading Braiding Sweetgrass which as the famed Jane Goodall says, “shows how the factual, objective approach of science can be enriched by the ancient knowledge of the indigenous people.” I am already thinking of many ways I will be able to connect the book to the current work on view at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. You still have nearly a month to get the book and read it. I’d love to have you join me for Books and Brushes on November 12. Details are here.

Other posts…………

Books and Brushes- Connecting Art and Literature

A Bottomless Vortex of Books

Grandparents Who Were Readers


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