In Conversation: Kriss Munsya
Kriss Munsya’s BAF exhibition, “Monolithic Introspection,” presents the first photographs from an ongoing project created in collaboration with local environmental justice activists. For this series, Munsya applies his use of vivid imagery to draw the viewer into critical reflections of humanity and to engage audiences with questions about peoples, lands, resources and power.
Read on to learn more about Munsya’s motivation and intentions behind the works.
Historically in the arts, the idea of the singular male genius—from DaVinci to Richard Avedon—is very deeply embedded in the mythology of how artists work. When we think of how artists practice art, collaboration and consultation with community is still marginalized, often having to be defended as legitimate practice. Can you tell us what drew you to this way of working? Have you always collaborated with others, or is this a new way of working for you?
I am sincerely convinced that the way for human beings to find peace and acceptance is through accepting each other and working together. This vision is something that I wanted to integrate in my practice. It’s not only art, it’s also a statement, a statement of how I want the world to be.
Can you tell us why you chose photography as the medium for this body of work? What is the connection between photography and environmental justice for you?
Even if I’ve used different mediums in my—still young—career, photography is the medium I feel the most comfortable with working by myself. I don’t know if there’s a link a between the practice of photography and environmental justice but as we live in a really visual and digital society, I feel like photography might be the best way to diffuse that message.
Your work at BAF has a very different tone than previous work at Pendulum Gallery. THE ERASER is very personal—about memory, internalized supremacy, and experiences of coming to terms with identity. Monolithic Introspection, despite its name, seems very outward facing. Was that an intentional pivot for you? How did that shift happen?
THE ERASER is a very personal work for sure. I had to work on myself, go to therapy and dig some stuff out to come up with the project. I had a lot to unpack about myself, I had a lot to say about my experiences. I feel like I have said enough for the moment. Now that I don’t have anything interesting to say about myself, I’m trying to talk about the world I’m living in. I can’t spend my whole life talking about myself.
From the exhibition statement to the wall-text definitions, Monolithic Introspection feels educational. What is the purpose of this work for you? What can art actually do?
I feel like art has a purpose. In my opinion, the purpose of art is to challenge, to educate, to transmit emotions. The message of environmental justice is available everywhere on the internet, in the libraries, in the communities affected by it. Art can send the same message but with different signs. I think that my role, as an artist, is to try to influence my audience to make a change.
Aesthetically, the people in your images are posed after The Vitruvian Man who, in the original drawing, seems serene and at peace in his perfection. However, they also appear to be deeply uncomfortable, raised up off the ground, eyes shut, heads tilted back, pulled apart—almost crucified. Can you talk about your choice of models?
I wanted the scene to show the irony of the world we live in. The perfection that we desperately seek is tearing and will tear us apart if we don’t come together and start to love each other.
I chose the models through the Hogan’s Alley Society member Jahmira Lovemore. She’s also a model in the project.
The title, Monolithic Introspection, can be read in so many ways: as a thought-act committed by a stone, as a call to a unified power or force to look inward, and depending on how cynical the reader is, as a bit of a joke since systems of power are not generally known for sensitive self-examination. Can you tell us why you chose this title?
The name is inspired by the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Seeing the apes discovering the monolith reminded me of our society. We try to look so evolved and progressive when the basics of community living have not been reached yet: love, communication, consent, education, health.
We need to take the time and finally think as a species, as a human community.
What is next for you? Any exciting upcoming projects you’d like to share about?
I have different projects coming, all of them are linked with social issues and environmental justice.
See Kriss Munsya’s exhibition, “Monolithic Introspection,” at Burrard Arts Foundation until June 19th, 2021.