March 4 saw the opening of Artspace’s newest exhibition, Wanderings, a new body of artwork by Meryl McMaster.
The Ottawa-based artist explores her relationship to “cultural identity within the larger framework of historical and contemporary identity politics, using sculpture, photography and performance.”
McMaster describes the body of art as “exploring themes of wandering, exploring the unknown and also contemplating the possibilities and limitations of the self.”
A red thread runs through each of the images, representing the connection we have to where we come from and that this connection is a constant part of us, forming us in ways that we are not aware of.
While considering this, McMaster wants to bring us back to the almost “childlike experiences” that she depicts, which are “very dream-like and imaginative.”
This is to remind us of a time when we had limitless ideas of who we might want to be or where we would want to go.
It works and it works well.
In contrast the Artspace’s previous exhibition Central East Correctional Centre, which was more imposing, there is, as curator Jon Lockyer said, “more narrative in the way it is set up.”
With each image you are drawn in to each and every detail, images that are abstract enough to entice you without putting you off. With this, McMaster’s aim to bring us back to “childlike experiences” also peaks a childlike curiosity, stimulating a barrage of one’s own wonderings about identity.
McMaster has come to see identity as something that is “never complete,” shaped by internal and external factors and to be treated subjectively.
Her own lineage is indigenous and European, her father is Plains Cree and her mother is British and Dutch. At the centre of this new work is the history of the relationship and interactions between First Nations peoples and European settlers, which has produced very different identities.
As Lockyer explains in Meryl McMaster: Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost, the works in Wanderings should be viewed as part of a fictional world McMaster has created, rather than to view the images individually.
This works as a parallel world, at the centre of which is “McMaster’s own contemplations of the limitations of selfhood.”
Further, Lockyer describes how the characters McMaster creates advance the discourse of “Indigenous self-representation,” as the characters wander freely and inhibit spaces that McMaster’s own self cannot.
For Lockyer, the exhibition speaks to the contemporary reality of indigenous people, particularly that “navigating identity is a huge part of being indigenous in Canada, being both inside and outside this culture.”
In tackling the representation of indigenous identity, McMaster is “part of a long tradition of indigenous artists working at the intersection of photo and performance-based practices.”
McMaster is present in each image, helping to personalise ever more a very personal account of identity, which helps pull you into wondering about your own identity, but particularly about indigenous identity in modern Canada.
McMaster sees having art in public spaces like this as necessary to reaching outside of the art world, so that more people can engage with the art and the issues it tackles.
In this, more people can think about identity in their own way, giving them new ideas and ways of thinking about the world; Artspace is a great spot for this.
The exhibition runs until April 8, you should really go check it out.