A 2018 study by Toronto Aboriginal Support Services Council (TASSC) found that there are between 45,000 and 60,000 Indigenous adults in Toronto — and 87% of them fall below Canada’s low-income cut-off. Kent Monkman, a Canadian artist of Cree descent, is auctioning an original drawing to benefit the advocacy nonprofit, highlighting the urgent needs of Aboriginal people during the pandemic and beyond.
Working through its member agencies, TASSC provides cultural, socioeconomic, health, and housing resources for the city’s Indigenous residents; during the current health crisis, the org has ramped up efforts, delivering food, supplies, and other forms of aid.
The sale is taking place entirely on Monkman’s Instagram account — no gallery, auction house, or intermediary. Interested potential buyers can place their bids directly on Monkman’s post in increments of at least $10. Since the sale went live on Monday, bids have steadily climbed, with the highest offer currently at $3,000.
Monkman created the drawing as a preparatory sketch for his 2008 painting “The Watchful Fox, Chief of the Tribe with Tinselled Buck No. 4,520,” which now resides in the Denver Art Museum’s permanent collection.
“I saw this piece at the Denver Art Museum and it stopped me in my tracks,” said one commenter on the Instagram post.
The painting, and related drawing, speak to the colonial erasure of gender-fluid, LGBT+, and Two-Spirit people on Turtle Island, a term used by some Indigenous groups to name North America.
“When travelling through Indigenous territories in the 1830s, American artist George Catlin deliberately erased portrayals of those he called ‘dandies’ or ‘gay and tinselled bucks’ in his portfolio, dismissing them as ‘faint hearts,’” explains Monkman in an e-mail.
According to Monkman, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, the artist’s supernatural, gender-fluid alter ego, refers to these characters who have been effaced from history as “kâ wâsihkopayicik” (“the ones who shine”).
“In this series of paintings and drawings, I honour Two-Spirit people and restore their rightful place in art history,” adds Monkman.
Those interested in acquiring the work can still place bids: the hammer comes down tomorrow, Friday, April 10 at 4pm EDT.