Artist Kent Monkman’s new murals at The Met reexamine Manhattan’s colonial past

Posted On Thu, December 19, 2019 By

Posted On Thu, December 19, 2019 By In Art, Museums

Photos by Anna-Marie Kellen

Two new paintings by Canadian Cree artist Kent Monkman are now on view in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Great Hall. As part of a new series in which the museum invites contemporary artists to make work in response to the Met collection, Monkman reappropriated motifs from Western artists such as Emanuel Leutze and Eugéne Delacroix to tell a different narrative that foregrounds themes of arrival, migration, displacement, and the Indigenous experience.

Kent Monkman, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Great Hall Commissions, Cree artist, canadian artist

Kent Monkman, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Great Hall Commissions, Cree artist, canadian artist

The commission is titled mistikôsiwak, a Cree word meaning “wooden boat people” that refers to European colonizers. The two paintings—Welcoming the Newcomers and Resurgence of the People—can be considered a diptych: the First People welcome the Europeans to North America for the first time on one side and in a more contemporary setting (there are armed men flashing their guns and white power symbols in the corner) a group of resilient Indigenous and African-American figures brave stormy seas while pulling up white people from the waters.

Each composition features the figure of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle draped in red fabric. Miss Chief is Monkman’s frequent alter ego and a tribute to the “two spirit,” a third gender and non-binary sexuality in Indigenous cultures.

Kent Monkman, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Great Hall Commissions, Cree artist, canadian artist

Kent Monkman, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Great Hall Commissions, Cree artist, canadian artist

“In creating these paintings I was inspired, not only by the historic artworks in The Met collection but also by the history of Manhattan itself,” Monkman explains in a statement. “For thousands of years, these lands have been a meeting center for trade and diplomacy for many Indigenous nations, including the Lenape, until they were displaced by European settlers.”

The works also reference more contemporary imagery—like photographs of refugees—and strike a very contemporary chord about “Manhattan’s important role as a portal for immigration into North America and also the impact our rising sea levels will have on the millions who could be displaced in the not-too-distant future,” Monkman continued.

The paintings will remain on view through April 9, 2020.

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Photos by Anna-Marie Kellen

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Neighborhoods : Upper East Side

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