October 27 – November 24, 2018
Opening Saturday October 27th from 6pm to 8pm
Artist in attendance
65 George Street
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain is pleased to unveil Kent Monkman’s new series of paintings in Toronto entitled The Madhouse. This exhibition coincides with an important presentation of Monkman’s work at Art Toronto.
My latest series The Madhouse reflects on the legacy of colonial institutionalization of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Drawing inspiration from Michel Foucault, Francis Bacon, and Francisco de Goya, the Madhouse series depicts literal and allegorical struggles between guards and inmates in claustrophobic spaces of internment, exposing the psychological impact of incarceration on Indigenous people.
Since the political formation of Canada, Indigenous peoples have been subject to colonial policies of incarceration and institutionalization. In 1876, the Indian Act confined Indigenous people to colonial borders and categories, restricted how they were legally allowed to relate to their land and traditions, controlled their movement, and to this day still defines who is and who is not an “Indian.” In its attempts to assimilate us into the colonial project, the Canadian government has been removing Indigenous children from their families, communities, and cultures since 1883. Whether it was seven generations of residential school, or the staggering number of children in the child welfare system, these abusive policies led to widespread trauma and other mental health issues among survivors, which in turn gave rise to a pattern of over-incarceration of Indigenous adults in hospitals and prisons. Today, Indigenous people represent about five percent of Canada’s population, but over half the children in foster care are Indigenous. Almost half of incarcerated youth are Indigenous, and Indigenous adults comprise twenty seven percent of the federal prison population. In some prisons, like those in Kenora, the Indigenous population represents ninety percent of the inmate population. The Indigenous people I portray in the Madhouse paintings bear the effects of intergenerational trauma, and I wanted to show the raw expression of that pain as well as honour their strength.
I located the Madhouse series in spaces that evoke colonial institutions. In scenes recalling Michel Foucault’s panopticon, Indigenous people are isolated in cold, oppressive prisons, denied their individuality by a society that categorizes and confines them according to its needs. Echoes of Francis Bacon’s abstracted architecture and spaces of confused violence are visible in the dark institutional walls and interactions between the fenced-in figures. The brutal encounters that take place within the paintings also evoke the turmoil of Francisco de Goya’s madhouse works, from which this series takes its name. The figures are locked in both physical and metaphysical struggles, with some works depicting celestial beings that perhaps only the inmates can see.
By exposing the violence and trauma of colonial institutionalization that continues in Canada and so many other countries to this day, I wish to pay homage to the enduring resistance of Indigenous peoples.