Kent Monkman's The Big Four as Automobiography

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The Big Four, an installation of four “junker” automobiles by Swampy Cree artist Kent Monkman, explores Indigenous people's confinement in various settings—the reserve, the museum, the administrative borders of the state, and outdoor Wild-West-inspired exhibitions that sidelined Indigenous people to stock anachronistic figurations. Commissioned by the Glenbow Museum for the centenary of the Calgary Stampede, The Big Four offers an unexpected reflection on the state policies, material scarcities, and civic attitudes that limit Indigenous people's mobility. The desire for mobility against multiple forms of confinement emerges as a central theme of the installation, a tension seen in Monkman's very choice of media: the inert “junker” vehicles appear not as moving cars but as stationary vignettes stuck in place within the museum. Yet, at the same time as The Big Four confronts its viewer with enduring colonial legacies of segregation and confinement, the automobiles signify more than worn-down clunkers. They tell a counter-narrative of material innovation in the face of scarcity, of insistent circuits of travel, and of re-imagined geographies that extend beyond the boundaries of state, province, and region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)465-485
Number of pages21
Journala/b: Auto/Biography Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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