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United in Love

Kent Monkman in collaboration with Chris Chapman

On September 9, 2017, patrons of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts gathered around Kent Monkman’s 2006 beaded tipi installation, Théâtre de Cristal. The event was billed as a reception to honour the museum’s record-breaking retrospective Love Is Love: Wedding Bliss For All à la Jean Paul Gaultier. The exhibition presented 35 wedding gowns and suits designed by celebrated French couturier Jean Paul Gaultier. Included in the exhibition was Gaultier’s controversial reconstruction of a traditional First Nations people of the Plains headdress, presented in his 2002/2003 fall-winter collection, the Hussars. The display of this headdress in an exhibition on unceded Kanien’kehá:ka Nation territory demanded a response, and Monkman was asked by the MMFA to create a performance in collaboration with Jean Paul Gaultier – Another Feather in Her Bonnet.

Gaultier and Miss Chief Eagle Testickle (Monkman’s two-spirit alter ego), dressed in a Gaultier gown, the Hussars headdress, and her signature dreamcatcher bra, emerged from the crowd and joined hands beneath the glow of Théâtre de Cristal. In the presence of museum director and chief curator Nathalie Bondil, Love is Love curator Thierry-Maxime Loriot, a wedding officiant, and Gaultier’s muse Ève Salvail, Miss Chief accepted Jean Paul Gaultier’s proposal of an artistic union and aesthetic alliance founded on mutual respect and cultural understanding. Through this alliance, Miss Chief and Gaultier, whose bodies of work express a passionate defence of cultural and sexual diversity, agree to learn and to understand each other, appreciate cultural differences, and engage in open dialogue.

A portrait of Miss Chief and Gaultier, a collaboration by Kent Monkman and Toronto-based photographer Chris Chapman, adopts the aesthetic style and presentation of the keepsake cabinet card, a French invention dating back to the 19th century. For the public installation United in Love, the traditional cabinet card has been reconceived as back-to-back billboards: one side features the pair’s official portrait and the other provides the details of Another Feather in Her Bonnet in elaborate script. Chapman’s name is featured below the image in keeping with the cards’ historic function as a form of studio advertisement, a concept furthered by the translation of cabinet card to modern billboard. This keepsake has also been reproduced as an insert for the 2018 CONTACT catalogue.

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