Kent Monkman

The Rise and Fall of Civilization


Organized by Glenbow

Kent Monkman’s The Rise and Fall of Civilization references the near extinction of the American bison in the 1800s when unsustainable hunting practices, used primarily by white settlers, reduced the number of bison from over 30 million to just a few hundred by the 1880s.

Informed by an early fascination with museum dioramas at the Manitoba Museum, Kent Monkman has re-created a buffalo jump, illustrating a traditional buffalo hunting method used by Indigenous people. Here, the artist’s gender bending alter ego, the iconic Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, is driving the buffalo to the edge of the cliff, as her ancestors would have for thousands of years, to ultimately harvest and use every part of the animal.

By the end of the 1870s, the buffalo population of the North American plains had been wiped out. Bison or buffalo were hunted by settlers for sport, for political gain, and for profit – both the durable hides and the bones were desirable; Buffalo bones were used for fertilizer and in the manufacture of bone china. But the buffalo meat was left to rot, decimating a food source that had sustained Indigenous peoples for generations.

In Monkman’s installation, the smashed ceramics at the base of the cliff reference the build-up of bones often found at buffalo jumps, as well as the history of Indigenous ceramics found at sites across North America. The plunging buffalo morph from a taxidermy form into an abstracted form reminiscent of Pablo Picasso’s reoccurring bull figure, a reference to the dominance of Eurocentrism and modern art’s widespread aesthetic appropriation of Indigenous visual culture. The buffalo then morph into ancient rock drawings, functioning as a metaphor for the inevitable flow of history.

Kent Monkman
The Rise and Fall of Civilization, 2015
mixed media installation
Collection of Glenbow; Gift of the Artist, 2016
Commissioned by the Gardiner Museum, Toronto, 2015

About Kent Monkman

Kent Monkman (b. 1965) is an interdisciplinary Cree visual artist. A member of Fisher River Cree Nation in Treaty 5 Territory (Manitoba), he lives and works in Dish With One Spoon Territory (Toronto, Canada).

Known for his provocative interventions into Western European and American art history, Monkman explores themes of colonization, sexuality, loss, and resilience—the complexities of historic and contemporary Indigenous experiences—across painting, film/video, performance, and installation. Monkman’s gender-fluid alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle often appears in his work as a time-traveling, shape-shifting, supernatural being who reverses the colonial gaze to challenge received notions of history and Indigenous peoples.

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