Kent Monkman’s work Miss America (2012) is from the artist’s series The Four Continents, painted between 2012 and 2016. The other three works in the series are Miss Africa, Miss Asia and Miss Europe. Monkman drew inspiration for this multiyear series from Italian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s fresco Apollo and the Continents (1751-1753), which was commissioned for the Residence of the Prince-Bishops in Würzburg, Germany. In Tiepolo’s famed work, the sun god, Apollo, is at the center, while anthropomorphized depictions of the four continents reside on its periphery. In Monkman’s reimagining of the scene, the artist replaces Apollo with his gender-fluid alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. In Miss America, Miss Chief is the central figure, mounted atop an enormous reptile; she seems to be leading a charge against unwanted invaders. The island-like landmass is on the back of a large turtle; “Turtle Island” is a name for North America used by many Indigenous communities and nations. A wide cast of characters inhabits this landscape, including Indigenous peoples, conquistadors, priests, Lady Liberty and a variety of other figures, some in historic garb, some in contemporary dress. In the background, a pre-Columbian pyramid emerges from the horizon, with the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center in the foreground. Polluted water dumps out into the ocean, and a battleship looms in the distance. The work presents a different the notion of “America,” highlighting settler violence, forced assimilation, the decay of societies and environmental devastation, all while appropriating the European art-historical trope of history painting.
Kent Monkman is a Cree interdisciplinary visual artist. A member of the 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. Monkman’s painting and installation works have been exhibited at institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, the National Gallery of Canada, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Hayward Gallery, Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art, Musée Départemental d’Art Contemporain de Rochechouart, Maison Rouge, Philbrook Museum of Art, and Palais de Tokyo. He has created site-specific performances at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Royal Ontario Museum, Compton Verney Art Gallery in Warwickshire, England, and the Denver Art Museum. Monkman has had two nationally touring solo exhibitions, Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience, and The Triumph of Mischief. Monkman’s short-film and video works, made in collaboration with Gisèle Gordon, have screened at festivals such as the Berlinale and the Toronto International Film Festival. Monkman is the recipient of the Ontario Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, an honorary doctorate degree from OCAD University, the Indspire Award, and the Hnatyshyn Foundation Visual Arts Award.