Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is on all fours, his shoulders grasped by a snarling woman in dark gray chinos, his ass cheeks being spread apart by a woman in a light blue tank top, her head thrown back in mid-laugh. Standing over them is Miss Chief Share Eagle Testickle, donning a pair of thigh-high leather boots and a body-length feather headdress. In her grasp, raised high, is a butt plug, painted blood red and shaped in the form of a hand—the unofficial symbol used in the many awareness campaigns for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, or MMIW, crisis, wherein Indigenous women and girls in North America, including the LGBTQ2S community, have been abducted and killed at astronomical rates due to centuries of neglect by the Canadian and American governments.
There’s more to Hanky Panky, the latest controversial painting from Kent Monkman, a renowned artist and two-spirit Fisher River Cree Nation citizen who recently placed two paintings, mistikôsiwak (Wooden Boat People) and Resurgence of the People, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Great Hall. There’s the setting of the ceremony room, full of Cree women in various forms of traditional and modern dress, all of them laughing, presumably at Trudeau’s fate; there’s the huddle of aghast, gray-faced men, several of them physically comforting a concerned John MacDonald, Canada’s first prime minister, who ignored treaties and intentionally starved the Indigenous population to make way for the national railroad; there’s a Mountie, lying facedown, ass out, pants around his knees.
But the painting’s heart is that scene of Trudeau. It’s the look on his face and the faces of the women holding the prime minister’s hindquarters in place. It’s the red hand gleaming in the sunlight, combining religious symbolism with the sexual act of fisting. The rest of those present in Hanky Panky—particularly the women that Monkman attempts to center and empower—are merely witnesses, external to the real show.
This literal marginalization of the scene’s Indigenous women, as well as the painting’s notion that sexual violence should be repaid with sexual violence, broadly defines the criticism that has been voiced since Hanky Panky’s online release last week. Anticipating the backlash, Monkman included a content warning when he unveiled the work on Instagram. Monkman also posted an explanation of the new piece to his Facebook page on Saturday. Despite what the painting suggests, the Trudeau character is not about to be assaulted, Monkman claims, because he has a faint smile on his face and a red handkerchief in the back pocket of his pants, a reference to the hanky code, in which a red hanky denotes a preference for fisting. Monkman offered no explanation for the facedown, ass-up Mountie, whose pockets are empty, though he did post an apology two days after the release of the painting that addressed the critical response to these shortcomings.