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Debra Levine

Killing as Performance: Violence and the Shaping of Community
Verónica Zebadúa

The Noble Warrior was a Drag Queen
Kerry Swanson

Eréndira a caballo. Acoplamiento de cuerpos e historias en un relato de conquista y resistencia
Ana Cristina Ramirez

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Cynthia Bodenhorst

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Amy Sara Carroll

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Eduardo Flores Castillo

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[Page 4: The Noble Savage Was a Drag Queen: Hybridity and Transformation in Kent Monkman's Performance and Visual Art Interventions
by Kerry Swanson]


Re-Mythologizing the West

Monkman continues to create new myths in the subsequent paintings in the series. In The Trilogy of St. Thomas, a tragic love story unfolds between Miss Chief Share Eagle Testickle and her Orangeman lover, the young Thomas Scott. 

  Artist and Model, Kent Monkman

The trilogy uses the standard tragic love affair format to draw parallels to the complex relationship between Native peoples and their colonizers. The first painting in the trilogy, TheImpending Storm, references Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Cole, the highly religious Hudson River School painter, using the storm as an allegory for the "end of innocence" and "impending doom of civilization" that are about to encroach on Native life.28  Next, The Fourth of March references the execution of Thomas Scott by Louis Riel, a historical event that had a significant political impact on what was to come for the Cree people of Manitoba, Monkman's ancestors. 

In this series, Monkman inserts himself in the role of Share, a decision that will later allow him to give life to his alter-ego off-canvas.  Monkman writes that by inserting himself in the series, he "relate[s] the importance of this historical event to [his] own identity as a Native person".29 In his decision to create Share in his own image, the artist blatantly references his own sexuality as a site of power.  Share and her overt sexuality are always the focus of each work, with a blunt refusal to play second fiddle or to be upstaged by even her own lover's death. Minh-ha writes that "the return to a denied heritage allows one to start again with different re-departures, different pauses, different arrivals."30  By making himself the subject of his intervention on 19th-century colonial art, Monkman is effectively creating a place for himself, a place that previously did not exist, in the history books. 

Putting himself in his works also serves the purpose of overtly mocking "the self-aggrandisement of the original artists like George Catlin, who would occasionally place themselves in their work."31  The "Eagle Testickle" in our hero/ine's name is also a play on the egotism of the 19th-century artists who saw fit to create the mythologized Native image for world consumption.  Monkman's challenge to the subjectivity of ego-driven colonial artists is most obvious in an earlier painting, Artist and Model.  In this piece, Share paints a petroglyph-style image of her handsome white hostage, whom she has tied to a tree.  Share's image looks nothing like her subject, yet she appears swooning, her back arched with pride over her work.  Below her easel is a Louis Vuitton quiver or paint brush holder, a symbol of the commodification of both the original paintings and their Native subjects. 

In claiming a modern symbol of wealth, status, and luxury, Share reaffirms her power and further identifies herself with both the present and the past.  She negates the hierarchy of class, power, and wealth that has left many Native people living as impoverished citizens in their own land. In the final painting in the trilogy, This is Not the End of the Trail, Share buries her lover, but hope springs up in the lingering gaze of the white priest presiding over the funeral.  Again, Monkman denies the sacredness of Christianity while alluding to a new chapter for Two-Spirited people.

Performance as Oral Tradition, Spectacle, and Authority

In the conscious decision to take his paintings to the forum of performance, Monkman gives a traditional voice to the story he is retelling, employing the oral tradition as opposed to the landscape art introduced to the continent through colonization.  Minh-ha writes, "[s]/he who speaks, speaks to the tale as s/he begins telling and retelling it.  S/he does not speak about it.  For, without a certain work of displacement, 'speaking about' only partakes in the conservation of systems of binary opposition".32 

Share is the s/he who, rather than condemning the actions of her predecessors through didactic lectures or tales, retells the tale in a way that speaks directly to Two-Spirit identities, in a way that encompasses both their past and present, and dismantles the authority of the colonial patriarchal ideology.  Monkman's effectively re-imagines a new space where what Homi Bhabha calls "hybridity," the culture between cultures, can exist.33  Catlin wrote that his work "will doubtless be interesting to future ages; who will have little else left from which to judge of the original inhabitants of this simple race of beings, who require but a few years more of the march of civilization and death, to deprive them of all their native customs and character."34  Catlin and his colleagues were convinced that they were recording the last gasping breaths of a soon-to-be-extinct race. 

In the McMichael performance, Share takes on the role of Catlin/colonizer, occupying the position of authority as a means of discrediting it.  As the artist in the piece, it is she who is singularly responsible for creating the stories and images that will reinforce the power relationship between herself and her subjects.  Monkman's simple use of role reversal, emphasized by switching references to white man and red man, savage and civilized, is a humourous way of highlighting the arbitrary nature of racist classification.  In giving his community audiences a new history that is in opposition to the accepted version that denigrates Native people and their customs and excludes Two Spirited people, Monkman, like Catlin, offers a perspective that can be used as insight for future ages, as perhaps the era of white male supremacy nears its end. 

The "traveling gallery" is a reference to Catlin's traveling gallery, where his images reached mass audiences for the time.  The traveling gallery served as one of the key methods by which Catlin's mythology of the Native people and tribes with which he came into contact was consumed.  The Native person thus became a spectacle, an object of fascination, and an "other" offered up for public consumption.  Share, similarly, will travel colonial galleries as a method of intervention on the spaces that continue to give ownership and authority of history to the colonial worldview.  Share uses the concept of spectacle to her advantage; she embraces the idea of herself as "other," as a positive dichotomy to the oppressive identity constructs of hetero-Christianity.


As Homi Bhabha writes, freedom for those marginalized by colonization exists through the creation of new hybrid spaces beyond the confines, constructs, and definitions created by the colonizers. Freedom is the act of creating and existing in a place beyond definitions, beyond black and white, somewhere in the blurry space beyond the culturally safe margins of identity.  Sexuality and its many taboos are nothing more than imaginary constructs that are given codes and rules as a method to enforce power.  Names, rules, and acceptance levels change according to the dominant ideology of a specific time and place. 

In this way, something that was once a source of pride can easily become a site of shame, as in the case of non-heterosexuality under Christianity.  Monkman refuses to accept the Christian constructs that were established and reinforced by colonial rule, and continue to deny and suppress the once-celebrated sexual diversity within Native tribes.  Through his visual and performance art, Monkman successfully creates a third space, where a time-traveling half-breed drag queen can take ownership over her history and sexual identity. From this position, the margins are the center, and the power of definition belongs to the once-marginalized. In creating this space, Monkman acknowledges the rightful place of the Two-Spirited person in traditional history, and encourages discourse that reflects on and amends the loss of Native sexuality through Christian imperialism. 

Works Cited

Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. London and New York: Routledge: 1994.

Catlin, George. Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of North American Indians: Written During Eight Years' Travel (1832-1839) Amongst the Wildest Tribes of Indians in North America. London: D. Bogue, 1844.

Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Bureau of Public Secrets website: October, 2005.

Deschamps, Gilbert. We Are Part of a Tradition: A Guide on Two-Spirited People for First Nations Communities. Mino-B'maadiziwin Project: Toronto: 2-Spirited People of the First Nations, 1998.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality Volume One: The Will to Knowledge. London: 1990.

King, Thomas. The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative. Toronto: House of Anansi, 2004.

Liss, David. "Miss Chief's Return." Canadian Art Magazine. Volume 22 Number 3, Fall 2005.

Luna, James. "Allow Me to Introduce Myself," in Canadian Theatre Review. Issue 68, Fall 1991.

Minh-ha, Trinh T. When the Moon Waxes Red: Representation, Gender and Cultural Politics. London and New York: Routledge: 1991.

Muñoz, José Esteban. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.

Monkman, Kent. Artist Statement: The Trilogy of St. Thomas. 2004.

---. Artist Statement: Miss Chief Share Eagle Testickle's Traveling Gallery and European Male Emporium. 2004

Owens, Louis. Mixed Blood Messages: Literature, Film, Family, Place. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.

Williams, Walter. The Spirit and The Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture. Boston: Beacon Press: 1986.

Wolford, Lisa "Guillermo Gómez-Peña: An Introduction" Theatre Topics. The Johns Hopkins University Press.. Volume 9, Number 1, March 1999

Kerry Swanson is the Director of Development and member of the Programming Committee for the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto. She is also a member of the Board of Directors for the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto (LIFT). She has a BAH in English Literature from Queen's University and is currently working on a Masters in Communication and Culture, with a focus on Canadian Aboriginal film and video, in a joint program between York and Ryerson Universities. Kerry is a member of the Michipicoten First Nation in northern Ontario.


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