Campus Life

Rising-star Indigenous Artist Meryl McMaster explores identity through self-portraiture

It is with excitement and great anticipation that the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery welcomes Meryl McMaster’s Confluence to the main gallery, January 18 through March 15.

Meryl McMaster's Dream Catcher (2015) Ink jet print, edition 2 of 2 AP. Courtesy of the artist and Katzman Contemporary.

A rising star in the Canadian art world, McMasters’s series of photographic self-portraiture explores identity, representation, storytelling and the environment in this touring exhibition from Carleton University Art Gallery, curated by Heather Anderson.

“The University of Lethbridge Art Gallery has been waiting three years to present this exhibition,” says gallery director Dr. Josephine Mills. “Carleton University approached me in 2015 when they were first planning this touring exhibition and I immediately jumped at the opportunity to bring McMaster’s stunning and powerful photographs to Lethbridge.”

As an individual of mixed Plains Cree and Euro-Canadian heritage, investigations of identity and issues of Indigenous representation inform McMaster’s work. Her potent, mysterious photographs explore the fluid domain of identity, and the possibilities of examining the self and its representation.

Meryl McMaster Secret Darkness of Birds (2015) Ink jet print, edition 2 of 3. Courtesy of the artist and Katzman Contemporary.

Placing herself in front of the camera, McMaster transforms her appearance by layering photographic images onto her body or the elaborate costumes and props she creates, and presents these alter egos as solitary in the landscape. Her self-portraiture challenges the ways that Indigenous peoples have been, and continue to be, represented within a colonial framework while opening up imaginative spaces of possibility that explore the complex, layered and nuanced ways in which identities are shaped and experienced.

“The work could be called self-portraiture because she places herself in the images and she takes the photographs, but they are so much more than that,” exclaims Mills. “She stages elaborate scenes with costumes and make-up that invite the viewer to think about how identity is constructed and our own relationships with the land and cultural concepts that she references.”

The exhibition opens with a reception Thursday, Jan. 18, 4-6 p.m. and runs until March 15. The gallery is free to attend, open weekdays 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Thursday until 8:30 p.m.

Media are invited to a sneak peek of Confluence on Thursday, Jan 18, 10-11 a.m. in the main gallery.