A note on ‘Sunshine on a Cannibal’

There are references in this work that are linked beyond being presented together in the painting Sunshine on a Cannibal: Yves Klein’s Suaire de Mondo Cane (Mondo Cane Shroud, 1961) and the mondo-genre filmmakers Paolo Cavara, Franco Prosperi and Gualtiero Jacopetti’s film Mondo Cane (1962). Cavara, Prosperi and Jacopetti defined the genre of mondo filmmaking, creating some of the most graphic images in film. Mondo is an exploitative, often fake, form of documentary that utilizes staged violence interlaced with brutal hunting scenes, a technique meant to give validity to the staged images when presented in combination. Often the filmmakers invented tribal rituals which they considered bizarre and absurd. Colonized people were often exploited in these films and Prosperi and Jacopetti went on to make fictional narrative films such as Africa Addio (1966) with graphic/snuff footage of the Zanzibar Revolution and Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971) a film that depicts the horrors of slavery re-enacted by the people of Haiti with the support of Papa Doc Duvalier. 

The directors are admittedly irresponsible image makers. Yves Klein’s work peaked the directors interests because they admired what they felt was the artist’s sensational objectification of women by using women as “living paintbrushes.” It is said that Klein disapproved so strongly about the representation of his work in the film, that when Klein viewed the film at Cannes Film Festival May 11, 1962 (the film was nominated for a Palm d’or) he suffered a heart attack. Klein died a month later after suffering from two more heart attacks. Klein’s Suaire de Mondo Cane, the painting created in the film, is now part of the Walker Art Center’s collection in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Yves Klein’s Suaire de Mondo Cane (Mondo Cane Shroud, 1961)

Mondo Cane’s Polish film poster

Africa Addio lobby card

Film still from Mondo Cane

In Sunshine on a Cannibal, reproductions of Klein’s women fade into the landscape, while a recreation of a painted face from the Mondo Cane’s Polish film poster is presented backwards as negated, abstracted or back-masked on the left of the painting. When a named artist with institutional power is presented in a humiliating way similar to indigenous people (who, likewise, have no agency in their documentary portrayal) we should question the entire mode of exploitation, not just Klein’s. The text, “INSERT TRIGGER WARNING IN CASES WHERE THE SUBJECT IS ALSO THE PRIMARY AUDIENCE” is in reference to audiences who are privileged enough to see portrayals of themselves and possibly protest. This fantasy message is a warning directed at documentarians to insert a further warning to abandon liability if someone like Klein (the subject) happened to see their portrayal as an audience member. 


Another image referenced in this work is a canoe petroglyph from Pictured Lake near Thunder Bay, Ontario (lower left of Sunshine on a Cannibal). The idea of a canoe - a light craft, that moves across the ever changing surface of the water - depicted on rocks that are seemingly immobile and static, is an exercise in contrasts. But, if one believes that rocks are inhabitable by spirits, and just as penetrable as the surface of the water, the contrast quickly dissolves. 

This image of the canoe petroglyph is documented in the book, Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes (1961, 2nd ed.) by Selwyn Dewdney and Kenneth E. Kidd. All of the reproductions of the petroglyphs in this book are presented to scale with a key of one inch equivalent to one foot, or 1/12 of the original size. By this math, the original canoe petroglyph of Pictured Lake should be approximately one-foot long. Within Sunshine on a Cannibal these images are presented in approximation to their original scale.


At the center-top of Sunshine on a Cannibal sits some towers of Babel. In my piece INK BABEL (2014), a reference the Tower of Babel can be found in the formal design, as images candy-cane diagonally down the side. The effect mimics the often-imagined external, cascading stairway of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s etchings of the tower. The central tower in Sunshine is met by an upside down tower and it rests upon yet another upside down base of itself. This is to suggest that “Rome is built upon Rome” and that “there are turtles all the way down” as the painted turtles depicted are also in reference of these aphorisms. This is also in reference to an existential dread of creating ourselves anew on the backs of a persistent, undying colonialism. 

Each row of this work - there are four - contain a seascape. There are four worlds stacked and folded into a single world as images trespass each row vertically. These are cellular, folded horizons. All horizons on this sphere of Earth are continual, but they are broken into legal fictions, boundaries and territories. 

The title, Sunshine on a Cannibal refers to ideas of cultural fantasy, assimilation and sexual exoticism inspire the sensational reference to cannibalism. Sunshine is a form of revealing motivations or exposing something to scrutiny. Cannibalism as a colonial-created subject, is the ultimate other, the non-colonized or the un-civilizable. The title could mean “Revealing the Other’s Other.” But the cannibal metaphor, becomes symbolic, emblematic and dangerous. The Christian colonizer worked in false dichotomies that defined themselves as god-eaters (in relation to heaven, the mind and head) adversarial to man-eaters (terrestrial, carnal, base). The cannibal of this work is those forces who assimilate, conquer and proselytize, but also supplant other narratives with all-consuming frameworks. The cannibal metaphor for cultural assimilation, and the Windigo of Anishinaabe storytelling, is further explained in statements around my series of paintings under the collective title of VORE.

Tupinamban Cannibal Feast” by Theodor De Bry from 1592

How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman (Portuguese), directed by Nelson Pereira dos Santos 1971.

Oswald de Andrade’s Cannibalist Manifesto (1928)

Cover for “Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wetiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism” by Jack D. Forbes (1992)


Sunshine on a Cannibal references a morbid (possibly nihilistic) figure: a headless, life-like baby doll. Baby dolls are often given to young girls for role playing, it might be an act of futurity. The headless baby dolls that cascade on either side of ‘Sunshine on a Cannibal’ are drawn with images of cannibal feasts projected on their surfaces. The dolls are headless, futureless, inverted as if negated and projected with racist propaganda from the “age of exploration.” These babies are symbolic of epistemic ruptures and breaks of the colonial past as if to say, “we’ve reassembled our bodies amongst dead babies of the past or have survived despite them.”

A theme that is starting to emerge in my work is the idea of Indigenous Futurism and Utopian Studies. Themes of landscape, geography and temporality are important to these cultural studies. Afro-futurism, Afro-pessimism, Afro-nihilism are all possibly part of the umbrella Utopian Studies, but the application of an Indigenous hyphen is still being negotiated as a budding movement. 

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