Category Archives: winnipeg art gallery

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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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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Incarceration

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 Sitting Bull 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 sun rise 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 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

Starvation

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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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Starvation- Kent Monkman Style

Part of the Starvation exhibit area in the Kent Monkman show 

 Kent Monkman’s  Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience currently on view at the Winnipeg Art Gallery presents endless avenues for exploration and learning. 

iron horse Kent Monkman
The section of the exhibit called Starvation features this painting Iron Horse created by Kent Monkman in 2015.  Iron horse is a term said to have been coined by the indigenous people of North America in the early 1800s when they first saw a steam locomotive. 

779px-The_Procession_of_the_Trojan_Horse_in_Troy_by_Giovanni_Domenico_Tiepolo_(cropped)Monkman’s inspiration for his Iron Horse came from a 1773 painting by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo called The Procession of the Trojan Horse Into Troy. 

Tiepolo’s painting illustrates a story from Homer’s Illiad about a battle between the Greeks and Trojans over the kidnapped Helen Queen of Sparta. The Greeks left the Trojans a gift of a huge wooden horse outside the walls of their city.  The Trojans thought it was a victory present and hauled it into Troy. Later that night Greek soldiers who were inside the horse came out and opened the city gates to let in the other Greek troops hiding nearby.  The Greeks won the war.

Because of The Illiad story, a Trojan horse has come to mean something that looks good but has a much darker purpose or impact. And a Trojan horse is exactly what the railroad was for the First Nations of Canada.

Numerous plates made by Kent Monkman on a long table in the Starvation exhibit are decorated with bones and artwork of settlers with their piles of buffalo bones beside the railroad tracks.  

The indigenous people were told the railroad would be a good thing bringing riches and progress but instead, it brought disaster as settlers shooting buffalo from the train literally decimated the herds on the prairies which had served as a key food source for First Nations. 

The china plates illustrate how the railroad helped decimate the prairie bison population and leave indigenous people to starve. In a talk he gave at Queens University Kent noted that often bison bones were used to make china. 

I read that in order to force indigenous people in Saskatchewan and Alberta to leave their land along the rail line and move to reservations the Canadian government instituted a plan of famine and starvation.  Treaty 6 signed by the government with the Assiniboine, Plains, and Wood Cree people guaranteed food in times of famine but instead, the government used food as a way to ethnically cleanse a vast region from Regina to the Alberta border in order to facilitate the building of the railroad.

This china plate featuring the Fathers of Confederation on the table in the Starvation exhibit references the fact that Sir John A Macdonald and his fellow politicians deliberately starved indigenous Canadians

Sir John A. Macdonald, acting as both prime minister and minister of Indian affairs during the famine, even bragged in Parliament that he was keeping the indigenous population on the verge of starvation when he was criticized for using too much money to build the railroad.  

Sharps model 1874 rifle from the Glenbow Museum collection

There’s a rifle from the 1800s on display in the Starvation Exhibit.  I read an article that said this model was one of many used to decimate the buffalo population on the prairies within ten years. 

Bison Study by Albert Bierstadt from the Glenbow Museum collection

The exhibit also includes a bison painting by German artist Albert Bierstadt.

The Buffalo Trail by Albert Bierstadt -1867- Boston Museum of Fine Arts

A closer investigation of Bierstadt’s paintings of bison in the North American west allows viewers to see how Kent Monkman was imitating Bierstadt’s style covering most of the canvas with a grand landscape and including small figures only at the bottom of the painting.

1875,_Bierstadt,_Albert,_Mount_Adams,_Washington

Mount Adams Washington by Albert Bierstadt – 1875

In a lecture at Queens University, Kent Monkman said when he first saw Bierstadt’s paintings he thought they were insane.  “You had these monumental paintings with these romantic vistas and you could see the presence of God basically shining out of the heavens, they felt kind of biblical in a sense. And you can see the players, Indigenous people, minuscule keepers of nature, just bit players in this large scheme of creation. So, I decided to really start putting my energy towards imitating these paintings because I thought, okay, this is a new challenge. This is really hard…..”

And that is just the very tip of the iceberg for everything you can see and learn and discover in just one section of the Kent Monkman exhibit.  Luckily Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience is on at the Winnipeg Art Gallery till February because you will want to keep coming back for more visits as you explore this rich and brilliant collection of art that offers a very different view of Canadian history. 

Other posts………

Kent Monkman – He’s From Winnipeg

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He’s From Winnipeg

Kent Monkman – Photo by Samuel Engelking- from the Kent Monkman Studio Facebook page

I am so excited about the Kent Monkman exhibit Shame and Prejudice coming to the Winnipeg Art Gallery in just a few weeks. Kent Monkman lives in Toronto, has exhibited on three continents, and has an international reputation.

But did you know Kent Monkman grew up in Winnipeg and has many childhood connections with the Winnipeg Art Gallery? He’s always loved to draw and was sketching and painting horses before he was five.

Monkman started studying art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery when he was one of two kids chosen from his school to receive free Saturday morning classes at the WAG. In an interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail, he says, “I felt such a sense of belonging at the Winnipeg Art Gallery because I spent so much time there as a kid, not just in the art classes, but walking through the galleries.”

In a lecture at Queens University, the artist describes how he felt a certain kind of ownership of the Winnipeg Art Gallery space especially after seeing the work of Anishinaabe artist Robert Houle exhibited there.  In an article in the Winnipeg Free Press Monkman talks about how fascinated he was to see an indigenous man who was “a contemporary artist making modern paintings.”  He was inspired by Houle’s work. 

Kent Monkman was born in St. Mary’s Ontario. His father Everet Monkman was a member of Fisher River First Nation and his mother, a schoolteacher Rilla Unger, was Anglo-Irish.  They were both devout evangelical Christians who met through their church connection. An article in the Toronto Life magazine says the Monkman family first lived in Shamattawa in northern Manitoba as Christian missionaries. Kent’s mother found it very difficult. She couldn’t speak Cree and their living accommodations were rustic.                

The Scoop 2018 by Kent Monkman from the Kent Monkman Studio Facebook page

When Kent was in grade one his family moved to Winnipeg where his Dad did church work, drove a taxi, was a social worker and a bush pilot. He died in a plane crash when Kent was 21. His great grandmother Caroline Everett, who spoke only Cree,  lived with his family in Winnipeg till he was ten so he had a strong connection with his indigenous family history as a young child. His grandmother Elizabeth Monkman went to a residential school in Brandon, Manitoba but only talked about the suffering she had experienced there on her deathbed.

Kent’s family lived in River Heights where he went to Kelvin High School with kids from some of Winnipeg’s richest families. He was a popular student.  

Kent Monkman photo by Quin West from the Kent Monkman Studio Facebook Page

In an article in the Montreal Gazette Kent says some of his most vivid memories growing up in Winnipeg were visits he made to the Manitoba Museum. The way indigenous life was portrayed in the life-size dioramas was so very different from what he saw on the Main Street strip of Winnipeg where poverty and suffering and the effects of dislocation were so clearly evident. At the museum, he saw proud indigenous people before the arrival of colonists and on the streets of Winnipeg he saw indigenous people tumbling out of bars. “I had to reconcile the idealized, pre-contact, frozen-in-time image in the museum with this reality of what the colonial project did. I remember kids looking at me and saying, ‘What happened to your people? What’s going on?’ I didn’t know how to answer them.”

A teen examines the Kent Monkman work The Deluge . Photo from the Kent Monkman Studio Facebook page

During our 2017/2018  exhibit Insurgence/Resurgence at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, we had one of Kent Monkman’s works on display and it was a huge hit especially with the Winnipeg teenagers I took on tours.  I know they will be inspired by his upcoming exhibit Shame and Prejudice.  

Kent Monkman’s painting Death of the Female-2014 is set on the streets of Winnipeg- from the Kent Monkman Studio Facebook page

One thing I want to be sure the teenagers on my tours know is that Kent Monkman is from their home city and that Winnipeg, and in particular the Winnipeg Art Gallery, played a role in shaping his art and launching him on his path to phenomenal success in the art world. I hope Kent Monkman’s work at the Winnipeg Art Gallery inspires a whole new generation of Winnipeg young people the way Robert Houle’s work inspired Kent when he was a teenager. 

Other posts………..

Old Sun and Emily Carr

Ojibwa in Paris

Art That Makes You Sick

She Is Gripped By Terror

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Are They Star Maps?

When I show these works of art by Jitish Kallat to kids at the Winnipeg Art Gallery they always think they must be star maps. The children are quite surprised when I tell them they are really raindrop maps or designs. The artist Jitish Kallat calls them Rain Studies. He makes them during the monsoon season in Mumbai, India.

Kallat uses watercolor pencils to make dark circles on woven paper.  Then during rain showers he steps outside and holds up the paper to the sky, allowing rain to fall on it for a certain number of breath cycles.  A breath cycle is breathing in and then out.  The raindrops leave an imprint on the dark circle and he sprays it to preserve it and then wipes the paper dry. In these three pieces, you can see how the length of time Kallat remains outside makes a difference in the designs.  Kallat has noted the number of breath cycles he held each circle up to the rain. The first one was for two breath cycles, the second for four and the third for seven.  Kallat uses a BC abbreviation and he pencils in the number of breath cycles by each dark circle.  He also records the time and date of each rain study. During some of the rain studies, it must have been raining quite hard and in others, quite lightly. The images do look very starlike, almost like astronomical charts. Kallat says in a New York Times interview that nature makes the artwork.  He doesn’t.  

Kallat’s Rain Studies are part of the current Vision Exchange exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. It closes in just a couple of weeks so if you haven’t seen it already you want to be sure to go before summer ends.  

Other posts about the Vision Exchange exhibit……..

Warli Art

Don’t Forget About Us

Wrestling Farmers

Carpet Conversation

Sports Equipment and Salt

Hyphenated Lives

 

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