Kent Monkman

About the Artist

Kent Monkman is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation in northern Manitoba, and is of mixed English and Irish descent. He was born in St. Marys, Ontario in 1965, but grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba and on various  reservesAn Indian reserve is specified by the Indian Act as a "tract of land, the legal title to which is vested in Her Majesty, that has been set apart by Her Majesty for the use and benefit of a band." To find out more about reserves in Canada, go to: Indian Reserves Western Canada   in northern Manitoba as his father traveled around preaching Christianity to the Cree in their own language.

As a kid, Monkman says he was always  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (  and drawing. “There was never any question in my mind that that’s what I would be doing. When it came to that point in my life of what to do, I knew I was going to pursue my life as an artist.” (Waboose, 1995)

At age 17 he began to study  illustrationA drawing used to explain a story, idea or method.  through a  commercialPertaining to making money, i.e., creating art in order to sell it, rather than creating art for purely aesthetic purposes.  art program at Sheridan College in Ontario. He then trained as an artist at various institutions in Canada and the United States. He first worked in Toronto, Ontario as a set and costume designer for theatre and dance and also built a reputation as a talented illustrator before turning to painting. “I’ve explored these other areas but I think I’m first and foremost a painter and … I just feel that’s what I do best,” Monkman has stated in an interview.

Monkman has also produced film and video works since 1996, and more recently has created installations, performances and interventions. He now works from his home and studio in Toronto.


About the Cree Syllabic system

Most authorities believe the system of Cree syllabics was invented by a missionary as a way of putting the Bible into an easy-to-learn form. Some Cree dispute this, but whatever its origins, the Cree syllabary still plays an important role for Cree Christians.

Monkman does not speak or understand Cree, so for him  CreeThe largest group of First Nations in Canada, and part of the Algonquian language family. See the Canadian Encyclopedia for more information:  is not a means of preserving traditional culture. However, he does use the syllabics in The Prayer Language  seriesA number of things or events standing or succeeding in order, and connected by a like relation; sequence; order; course; a succession of things; as, a continuous series of calamitous events. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  of paintings.

For more information on the Cree Syllabic system, go to the  Omniglot website at:

Early Inspiration
George Catlin Influence
Oh for a Thousand Tongues
The Prayer Language Series
The Théâtre De Cristal
Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning