His reworking of Tiepolo’s ceiling cycle The Four Continents (1754), specifically America at Treppenhaus, Residenz at Würzburg, Germany, challenges the euro- western ‘Age of Reason’ through a re-casting of allegory and classism into a Canadian Indigenous context. Tiepolo’s cycle, epitomized, not only the lush allegorical language of Renaissance and Baroque conceptualizations of the world, but also the humanist philosophies that characterize the Enlightenment – the aesthetics of Classical Antiquity coupled with the search for imperial truth through reason to bring order from chaos. Likewise, Monkman, in appropriating these compositional, syntactic and iconographical tools, piles luscious fully-fleshed Indigenous and Non-Indigenous bodies into a climax of the Americas that simultaneously assert and undermine the ‘rationalism’ of the Age.
As in all Monkman’s work, we are drawn in and seduced by his ribald sexuality, his critique of historical narrative and further rewarded by the work’s elegance and rich corporality. Monkman neither satirizes, nor demeans his subject works. He evaluates and re-supposes them in meaningful, profound and wondrous ways. By monumentalizing the indigenous experience in the Americas, he posits a differing historical trajectory, skewering the apocryphal fantasies of colonial supremacy and manifest destiny
By Indigenizing the Euro-western canon he creates a tragic-comedy of multiple entendre, played out in a realm of mythic illusions, conscious and unconscious desires, myriad reflections on socio-cultural violence…..and acts of pure magic. He creates masterworks of subversion and sensuality, responding to and engaging an anti-colonial discourse steeped in the enduring of rationalism and imperialism within contemporary and historical imagination. These are constructions of presence that disentangle existing paradigms, bringing attention to the exclusiveness of popularly prescribed history.
Monkman’s figures posit a profound Indigenization of the landscape in a way unimaginable to art historical dogmatists. His is an “Americas” peopled by robust bodies grappling within colonial imperial knowledge – no one is exempt.
Their exuberant romp over the canvas is simultaneously a celebration and condemnation of cultural specificity undermined by the nation state. The complex imagery demands the viewer to look and orient themselves in what can only be an intensely political discourse of violent confluence and difference. It is a point, and site, of resistance and sovereignty for Indigenous people. And rising above it all…amid the tumult and the chaos is Monkman’s alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle; dazzling, unflappable, supple and yes…regal, in all her sumptuous glory.