KENT MONKMAN at MOCCA (Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, 952 Queen West), to December 30. 416-395-0067. Rating: NNNN
Kent Monkman, a Manitoba-born, Toronto-based artist of Cree and Irish ancestry, plays with native, "Canadian" and queer identities in ways rarely seen in contemporary art or in clubland. Monkman and his alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, appropriate and reverse cowboy-and-Indian and colonized-and-colonizer stereotypes in fun, sexy, provocative ways.
In this show, Botticelli's Venus is re-envisioned as a ManLine-worthy Last Mohican. Louis Vuitton handbags are piled in birchbark canoes. Outfits coordinate warriors' feather headdresses with Church Street-fabulous feather boas. Multiply that to the power of a velvet-draped, saloon-decor-styled installation, a player-piano soundtrack and two teepees of crystal and brocade and you've got an inkling of the trickster drag Monkman plays with, mostly to great effect.
Two massive and several smaller paintings, all in classical realist style with heavy gilt-edged frames, summarize Monkman's strategies. One borrows from familiar museum-diorama tales of natives hunting buffalo, adding in buff white boys as targets, too. In another, imagery historically used to depict the British conquest of native lands is altered to depict the brilliant (Cree) conquest of naive (regiment) lads.
Silent sepia films projected in the teepees reinforce this theme. In The Group Of Seven Inches, Eagle Testickle records "the ways of the noble white man" by getting some drunk, taking off their clothes and painting them. In another film, Eagle Testickle outwits a white "documentarian" with roaming hands.
Throughout, Monkman slyly implies that those who romanticize the First Nations male as "noble" and "wild" are sublimating their desire for actual romance. This semantic sleight of hand is used to document the documenters, trick the trickers and fuck those who fuck over. It's not always convincing, but it is very fun.