Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Making Mockeries, Making Connections
Parody has been a strategy within cultural production since the ancient Greeks: “paraodia” referred to a song sung alongside the main narrative thread of a dramatic work; the prefix “para-” also signifies “against.” In A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-century Art Forms, Linda Hutcheon offers this core definition: parody is “a form of repetition with ironic critical distance, marking difference rather than similarity … [with] tension between the potentially conservative effect of repetition and the potentially revolutionary impact of difference” (xii). This and other aspects of Hutcheon’s theory guide my interpretations of works by three contemporary artists working in Canada: Sybil Lamb’s novel I’ve Got a Time Bomb; Ursula Johnson’s (Mi’kmaq) three-part exhibition Mi’kwite’tmn (Do You Remember); and Kent Monkman’s (Cree and Irish) exhibition Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience. I argue that the presence of parodic elements in these artists’ works enables them to do two things: to claim spaces that enable recognition of their subject positions, and to critique an aspect of hegemonic norms in contemporary society. I read Lamb’s novel as a critique of the heteronormative gender binary via parody of the picaresque genre and of heteronormative discourse/language. Certain pieces in Monkman’s exhibition parody the epistemological and display strategies of traditional Eurocentric anthropological museums and archives, as can Johnson’s work; her sculptural-installations may also be read as parodying the traditions of Mi’kmaw basket-making. The work of both artists critiques colonial narratives that sought (and may still seek) to denigrate and/or erase Indigenous peoples; such narratives of cultural genocide were both tacitly and directly propagated by museums. I analyze these three artists’ works, considering key features of parody (ambiguity; irony and “double-voicedness”; trans-contextualization; and humour), and their effects (defamiliarization; ontological instability; complicity; and laughter). Parody challenges the post-structuralist emphasis on the “decoder,” (viewer/reader) reinstating the “encoder” (artist/author) as agent. Decoders recognize their complicity within the context of the hegemonic narrative, whether the heteronormative gender binary or colonialism, and may come to shift perception – as per Hutcheon’s “potentially revolutionary impact.” Author Keywords: contemporary art, Indigenous art, museum history, parody, picaresque, transgender literature

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