Unsettling exhibition pedagogies: troubling stories of the nation with Miss Chief




Johnson, Kay

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Museums as colonial institutions and agents in nation building have constructed, circulated and reinforced colonialist, patriarchal, heteronormative and cisnormative national narratives. Yet, these institutions can be subverted, resisted and transformed into sites of critical public pedagogy especially when they invite Indigenous artists and curators to intervene critically. They are thus becoming important spaces for Indigenous counter-narratives, self-representation and resistance—and for settler education. My study inquired into Cree artist Kent Monkman’s commissioned touring exhibition Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience which offers a critical response to Canada’s celebration of its sesquicentennial. Narrated by Monkman’s alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, the exhibition tells the story of the past 150 years from an Indigenous perspective. Seeking to work on unsettling my “settler within” (Regan, 2010, p. 13) and contribute to understandings of the education needed for transforming Indigenous-settler relations, I visited and studied the exhibition at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta and the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. My study brings together exhibition analysis, to examine how the exhibition’s elements work together to produce meaning and experience, with autoethnography as a means to distance myself from the stance of expert analyst and allow for settler reflexivity and vulnerability. I developed a three-lens framework (narrative, representational and relational/embodied) for exhibition analysis which itself became unsettled. What I experienced is an exhibition that has at its core a holism that brings together head, heart, body and spirit pulled together by the thread of the exhibition’s powerful storytelling. I therefore contend that Monkman and Miss Chief create a decolonizing, truth-telling space which not only invites a questioning of hegemonic narratives but also operates as a potentially unsettling site of experiential learning. As my self-discovery approach illustrates, exhibitions such as Monkman’s can profoundly disrupt the Euro-Western epistemological space of the museum with more holistic, relational, storied public pedagogies. For me, this led to deeply unsettling experiences and new ways of knowing and learning. As for if, to what extent, or how the exhibition will unsettle other visitors, I can only speak of its pedagogical possibilities. My own learning as a settler and adult educator suggests that when museums invite Indigenous intervention, they create important possibilities for unsettling settler histories, identities, relationships, epistemologies and pedagogies. This can inform public pedagogy and adult education discourses in ways that encourage interrogating, unsettling and reorienting Eurocentric theories, methodologies and practices, even those we characterize as critical and transformative. Using the lens of my own unsettling, and engaging in a close reading of Monkman’s exhibition, I expand my understandings of pedagogy and thus my capacities to contribute to understandings of public pedagogical mechanisms, specifically in relation to unsettling exhibition pedagogies and as part of a growing conversation between critical adult education and museum studies.



public pedagogy, critical adult education, unsettling, settler education, exhibitions, Indigenous pedagogy, Indigenous epistemologies, museums, decolonization, reconciliation, settler colonialism, Kent Monkman, Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Canada 150, Glenbow Museum, Confederation Centre of the Arts, national narratives, autoethnography, exhibition analysis, narrative learning, gender, sexuality, heteropatriarchy, museum studies, intersectionality, artist interventions, transformative learning, Two Spirit, LGBTQ, embodied learning, relationality, holistic learning, representation, humour, emotional learning, decolonized sexuality, narrative inquiry, experiential learning, counter-narrative, critical visual methodology, critical public pedagogy, art galleries