The Tragic Beauty Contest

the tragic beauty contest36″ x 44″, Acrylic on canvas, 2006      (Collection of the Artist)

In “The Tragic Beauty Contest” Riel extends his concern for today’s youth beyond the Native community to address the issue of anorexia, an international health problem linked to the image of female perfection produced and promoted by the media – with dire consequences for the many youths who would pursue such perfection. The painting picks up on the theme explored earlier in “Barbie Girl”. Here, The Best Man swoops down from heaven like a latter-day angel to offer sustenance to an emaciated young woman whose efforts to emulate the beauty pageant contestants have brought her to death’s door. The Best Man’s heroic and lifesaving gesture transcends race, religion, culture and nationality. Here, we see The Best Man at his best, in the role of a transcultural sacred clown, able to connect with and speak to the experiences of young people in a visual, textual and musical language they both use and understand. Riel’s colorful cautionary tales are no less entertaining nor value laden than those of the trickster Iktomi, whose narrative legacy he inherits and perpetuates through the exploits of his alter-ego, The Best Man. – ALLAN J. RYAN,  RIEL BENN’S “BEST MAN”: An Unlikely Successor to Iktomi’s Trickster Legacy. AMERICAN INDIAN ART MAGAZINE, SPRING 2010