By Lori Beavis
I want to plunge into the storage space where Meryl McMaster stores the habiliments that she has created for her performative photographic practice. While there I could closely investigate the cloaks, patterned coats, feathered armbands, hand wraps, plumed plant material, and bird-festooned headwear. Over the past fifteen years, McMaster has incorporated the assembled robes and crafted artefacts, such as bound books, a light-filled shoulder basket, and the boat filled with birds, to create a practice that boldly negotiates the edges between performance, sculpture, and photography.
I read these textiles and other materials as McMaster’s regalia, akin to the distinctive and often sacred clothing, ornaments, and artefacts worn or carried during ceremonies, pow-wows, celebrations, and gatherings. The individual pieces are constructed by hand over many hours, and with each stitch or thread they create a tie to family, clan, and place. In donning this regalia, she performs stories of identity, history, and territorial contact, and she guides us through the past, into the present, and on into the times to come.
From her earliest photographic series, Ancestral (2008–10), McMaster has used overlays – whether digital or textile – and turned the camera on herself to examine her own nêhiyaw (Plains Cree)/ British/Dutch heritage as her method of disputing the representation or disappearance of Indigenous peoples. For In-Between Worlds (2010–15) she began to “incorporate sculptures that took on the form of talismans” as a way to reference and begin to examine her mixed heritage and how we view the past from the perspective of the present.1 In Wanderings (2015), birds became a recurring motif as protectors and guides. The theme of wandering took her into different landscapes as she worked to make connections between past and present in terms of who we are and who we might become…
[ Complete issue, in print and digital version, available here: Ciel variable 120 – FIGURES OF AFFIRMATION ]