Casualties of Modernism: The Affects and Afterlives of Kent Monkman's Automobiles

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Kent Monkman (maškêko-ininiw / Swampy Cree) is a multimedia artist whose work responds critically and playfully to aesthetic movements ranging from early frontier landscape painting to contemporary performance art. My discussion focuses on Monkman’s engagement with modernism by considering the abandoned automobiles that appear with striking frequency throughout his oeuvre. The wrecked cars and trucks in his paintings, resembling the crumpled Cubist bodies of modernism, signal a continuum between Monkman’s critique of modernism and his critique of the “gifts” of modernity—gifts that included residential schools and the reservization of Indigenous life. At its most obvious, the car is a cultural object indexing a (settler) system of capital accumulation and social hegemony. The abandoned wrecks that appear in Monkman’s paintings thus read as a commentary on entropy, exhaustion, and the expiration of the modernist project. At the same time, however, the persistence of their forms across Monkman’s landscapes suggests a material intractability that challenges the instrumentalization of land and the elements. From instruments of violence, the automobiles in Monkman’s paintings metamorphosize into artifacts of grief and ethico-spiritual contemplation.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of North American Indigenous Modernisms
EditorsKirby Brown, Stephen Ross, Alana Sayers
ISBN (Electronic)9781003030485
ISBN (Print)9780367466442
StatePublished - Sep 19 2022

Publication series

NameRoutledge Literature Handbooks


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