Group of Seven Inches 2004 and 2005
In August 2004, Kent Monkman staged an intervention at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario, through a filmed performance titled Group of Seven Inches. Channelling pop star Cher, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, in her first public appearance, rides a horse down the long road leading into the museum’s grounds. She encounters two white males dressed in moccasins and breechcloth, takes them into what was a studio belonging to Tom Thomson (1877–1917), and proceeds to feed them liquor and spank them with snowshoes, canoe paddles, and a cast-iron frying pan. Eventually she dresses them in the traditional late eighteenth-century European garb of powdered wigs and ruffled shirts and sets out to paint their portraits.
The film, which echoes the style of early silent movies, subverts the art of George Catlin (1796–1872) and Paul Kane (1810–1871) and the documentaries of Edward S. Curtis (1868–1952). These men were known for studying Indigenous nations, and here Monkman reverses their gazes, positioning Miss Chief as an artist observing white people. She prepares for her account of the ethnography of the European white male, and in one clip she presents a declaration of her intent, a statement that upends a similar text Kane wrote about his commitment to studying Indigenous peoples: “I have determined to devote whatever talents and proficiency I possess to the painting of a series of pictures illustrative of the European male. The subject is one in which I have felt a deep interest since childhood having become intimately familiar in my native land with the hundreds of trappers, voyageurs, priests and farmers who represent the noblest races of Europe.”
The Group of Seven Inches film was featured in the Triumph of Mischief exhibition at the Art Gallery of Hamilton in 2007 in the installation Théâtre de Cristal, 2006. This too was intended as a critical response, one that looked back to Catlin’s presentations of his work. Catlin had created a travelling Indian Gallery to show exhibits of his pictures and collections, and at the centre he placed a tall, white Crow tipi, decorated with a series of hunting and battle scenes. The tipi in Monkman’s exhibit is one of the ways that Miss Chief mirrors and transforms Catlin’s project.