Meryl McMaster at Glenbow Museum, Calgary
Currently on display at Glenbow Museum, the arresting exhibition Confluence by Plains-Cree and Euro-Canadian artist Meryl McMaster comprises three photographic series. Each set of works creates a position for the artist to critique Indigenous identity in contemporary colonial society through the camera lens. Employing self-portraiture, McMaster places herself and her father within the field of vision through costuming and projected images by well-known photographers Edward Curtis and Will Soule, and painter George Caitlin. Repositioning the self, McMaster constructs a world where the Indigenous subject is no longer the object of the gaze – a problematic that has plagued Indigenous peoples for centuries.
The pieces in the series titled Ancestral (2008-09) feature McMaster and her father assuming otherworldly identities that are between animal and human. This series also includes the projection of historical images of Indigenous peoples that were typically seen as historically accurate, but are in fact misrepresentations of Indigenous identity. Mouths and eyes meet in an ethereal and ghostly manner that arrests the gaze while simultaneously redirecting it toward a more critical vision.
McMaster plays with the interconnection between the human and natural worlds in the other two series: In-Between Worlds (2010-13) and Wanderings (2015). Set almost entirely in winter landscapes, McMaster evokes the traditional Indigenous way of life and storytelling, positioning herself within the space of the gaze, and thus making herself the subject. Donning garments and decorations, McMaster exists between worlds, becoming one with nature through her interaction with it, whether in-situ or through costuming. This coalescing of human features with natural elements creates a compelling dichotomy for discussing identity and representation.
(This review was written from the perspective of a settler and ally.)
Maeve Hanna is a writer and curator who holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts Honours in Visual Art and Literature from York University and the University of Leeds and a Master of Arts in Art History and Icelandic Studies from Université du Québec à Montréal and the University of Manitoba on location in Iceland. She has previously written for Black Flash, C Magazine, Canadian Art, esse arts + opinions, Frieze, Sculpture Magazine and the Senses and Society. She is Akimblog’s Calgary correspondent and can be followed on Instagram @mcbchanna.