Museums Aren’t Us

Kent Monkman mischievously sows seeds of truth inside popular propagators of lies

B. Lorraine Smith

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Entering the “Being Legendary” exhibit by Kent Monkman at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum offers an extraordinary step forward on an important journey. (All photos by me.)

In a lecture hall at Montreal’s McGill University some four years ago, Kent Monkman gave a talk about his Shame & Prejudice exhibit, showing at the McCord Museum. I had just moved back to Canada after a decade in New York. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this talk served as a re-immigration process, inviting me to a more proper form of citizenship, seeming to say:

“These are the pages you skipped growing up here, and a few more that got written while you were out. Get caught up.”

I visited the Shame & Prejudice exhibit three times in the following weeks, spending hours standing, sitting, breathing, and being among the life-size canvasses and cradle boards. These were visual prompts for stories ranging from the Sixties Scoop and genocide, to sexual mischief and intergenerational play.

This first round of Monkman exposures served as a watershed experience for me. So when my mom invited me to join her to see his Being Legendary exhibit currently featured at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum (aka the ROM), I knew enough to expect something important. Although I didn’t fully grasp just how important.

It was a phenomenal journey, rendering visible the scaffolding of our interconnectedness by way of a guided tour with Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Monkman’s alter ego. I had first met her at Shame & Prejudice and she appears once more near the start of this latest exhibit, introducing herself thus:

“I am Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. I am fluid with many forms. I am legendary. This is my story. Some of it is true. Much of it is truer than your truth. It is the âcimowin of our peoples. It is also your story, for we are all relatives.”

Partial view of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle greeting us in her beaded heels as she emerges from stardust at the start of the journey that is Being Legendary.

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B. Lorraine Smith

Former sustainability consultant replacing ESG with reality-based insights about corporate purpose and impact. https://www.blorrainesmith.com/