Meryl McMaster Bloodline

Feb 4–May 28
The McMichael ⁠ accessible_forward
    Meryl McMaster, The Grass Grows Deep, 2022, from the series ôhkominak âcimowina / Stories of my Grandmothers. Courtesy of the artist, Stephen Bulger Gallery, and Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain

Meryl McMaster (b. Ottawa, 1988) is a leading contemporary artistic voice, producing large-scale photographic self-portraits that explore her mixed Plains Cree/Siksika and Anglo/Dutch ancestry. This survey exhibition looks back on McMaster’s past accomplishments while bringing us up to date on her current explorations of family histories, in particular those of her female Plains Cree forebears from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in present day Saskatchewan.

While some of McMaster’s earliest works infuse historical representations of Indigenous peoples with contemporary interpretations, others suggest an imaginative repossession of the land, articulated in dreamlike scenarios. Her elaborate costumes, which she crafts herself, embody the blended strains of her ancestry, often with aesthetic echoes of historical garments and ceremonial regalia.

The artist’s more recent works picture her on the home territory of her father’s Plains Cree family on Red Pheasant Cree Nation. The most recent of these photographs reach across time, connecting to the three generations of remarkable Plains Cree and Métis women who came before the artist in her family line: her grandmother Lena McMaster (1921–2013); her great-grandmother Isabella (Bella) Wuttunee (1898–1980); and her great-great-grandmother Matilda (Tilly) Schmidt (1870–1955).

McMaster’s new works have their genesis in her great-grandmother’s diaries, which contain simple and casual descriptions of events in her daily life, from chores and the weather, to special visitors and trips to town. McMaster visually blends these memories with those of her father, her great-aunt, her great-uncle, and others in the Red Pheasant community. “By establishing a dialogue with my grandmothers, I keep their memories relevant and alive,” McMaster says, “making visible a transfer of knowledge between four generations of women.”

McMaster reflects, “While we may never know the full truths of our ancestors, we can still hold their memories close to our hearts.” A mother now herself, she continues to delve into the roots of her cultural identity, expanding her practice to include the moving image with her videos nipēhtēnān kiteh / We Can Hear Your Heartbeat (2023) and niwaniskân isi kiya / I Awake to You (2023), presented for the first time in this exhibition.

Curated by Sarah Milroy and Tarah Hogue

Co-organized by the McMichael Canadian Art Collection and Remai Modern. Presented in partnership with CONTACT

Meryl McMaster (b. 1988) creates dreamlike photographic self-portraiture that crosses timescales, blending moments, lifetimes, generations, and geological eras. Drawing from her nēhiyaw (Plains Cree) and Euro-Canadian ancestry she constructs site-specific scenes with labour-intensive garments. McMaster’s work reinforces the intersections between actual and imagined experiences, in hopes of better understanding oneself, our histories, lineage and a more-than-human world. McMaster’s work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Urban Shaman, Winnipeg (2021), McCord Steward Museum, Montréal (2021), Canada House, London (2020), Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (2019) and The Image Centre [Formerly Ryerson Image Centre], Toronto (2019). McMaster was shortlisted for the Rencontres d’Arles New Discovery Award (2019), was the recipient of the Scotiabank New Generation Photography Award (2018), REVEAL Indigenous Art Award (2017), and the Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship (2013).