Cowansville Bruck Museum
Nomads, Players and Voyeurs
June 15 to July 14, 2013
Monkeys have often acted as interpreters between humans or between gods and humans, sometimes assuming the identities, or at least the characteristics, of both divinities and people. They have been personified as wise teachers, mischievous fools, brave companions, joyful performers, degraded humanity and ridiculous little people. Over thousands of years sculptures and paintings throughout Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Egypt, South America and Europe have recorded the complex and fluctuating relationships between humans and monkeys, all based upon a recognition of their cross-specie similarity, justified today through DNA sequencing.
The behavioural and physiological similarities between humans and monkeys mean that monkeys have been used in Western art to represent humanity’s fall from grace, caution against the seven deadly sins, satirize those who hold power, and more recently mock the values of middle class society. When monkeys appear as the focus of the composition, they challenge us to emotionally or socially identify with them, instilling in us empathy, instigating self-reflection or evoking disdain. In the last century, with the entrenchment of dependence upon monkeys in medical and scientific research, the proliferation of zoos as tourist attractions, emergence of wildlife studies, and increase of travel, our relationship to monkeys has become more fraught as we struggle with conflicting moral positions.
France Jodoin’s connection to monkeys is based on two key experiences in her life. The first revolved around the failing health of her father who had always loved monkeys, and who, in the last months of his life gifted a monkey toy to some of his children. For France, this toy, perched on his walker, facilitated communication with a cherished ailing parent - the monkey became an interpreter who could bridge generations. The second formative incident took place in India where Jodoin met and photographed wild Macaques. Through face-to-face encounters, she recognized how the development and expression of individual characters contributed to the complexity of their social lives, as they each assumed a variety of roles within their own and human communities. Like each of us, every one of Jodoin’s monkeys is both an individual and community member.
Jodoin’s painting technique emphasizes the ephemeral moment when we encounter the mysterious other. It also communicates the decisive moment of the painting process, the transience of decision-making, where the painter melds material, emotion, and idea. The interplay between impressionistic masses and expressive thread-like lines that delineate form, record both the action of Jodoin’s subjects and her painter’s hand as she brings them to life. These are dynamic animals not passively sitting for their portraits but actively engaged as agents in forming their lives, evaluating and judging their world and ours.
Susan Surette, MA, Part-time faculty, Department of Art History, Concordia University