Decolonial Gestures or Doing it Wrong? Refaire le chemin, an installation by Algonquin multidisciplinary artist Nadia Myre. “We are delighted and honoured to host Nadia Myre for the 4th edition of the Artist-in-Residence program,” declared Suzanne Sauvage, President and Chief Executive Officer of the McCord Museum. “With this installation, Nadia bears witness to and recontextualizes her aboriginal identity while providing a personal, discursive, and hypothetical interpretation of our collections,” she continued.
To create her piece, Myre drew inspiration from women’s publications and periodicals from the Victorian era (1837-1901) containing patterns for Aboriginal inspired objects, their presence testifying to the taste for novelty and exoticism of the women of this period. She chose to craft four objects from these sources, while also looking to highlight the importance of oral tradition in the transmission of knowledge and the challenges associated with the recovery of identity. Working with voice recordings devoid of all reference to the nature of the objects, four sets of instructions were read aloud to the artist, who followed them without any knowledge beforehand of what they described.
“Questions about cultural authenticity, appropriation and the loss of ancestral techniques are addressed here. This creative process helps to stress the difficulties inherent in the reconstruction of cultural heritage when lacking the pertinent social, political and cultural landscape. I wanted to reflect the conditions under which women of this period reproduced these objects to reveal how Aboriginal artefacts were decontextualized for purely aesthetic and decorative ends based on Victorian principles and imagination. In the same way, following my own instructions, I reimagined these objects through an exploratory process of trial and error,” stated Nadia Myre.
The creations culminating from these readings are exhibited next to objects from the McCord Museum’s ethnological collection, prompting reflection on the role of museums in the “decontextualizing” process. The artefacts, selected from the First Peoples collection, often become denatured and lose their cultural function when taken from their communities. Through her creative act, Myre re-contextualizes the objects. “The creation of these reimagined pieces epitomizes personal learning and re-skilling as well as a system of knowledge transmission. Creating these works has allowed me to restore the cognitive processes that have been the backbone of native cultures; in revitalizing a material practice, I am performing a decolonial gesture and forging a cultural identity,” concluded the artist.
Quebec artist Nadia Myre is a member of the Anishnabeg Kitigan Zibi Nation. For more than a decade, her multidisciplinary work, rooted in a participatory method, has addressed themes of identity, language, desire and loss. Myre is a graduate of Comosun College (1995), Emily Carr University (1997) and Concordia University (MFA, 2002). She is the recipient of several awards and grants, notably the Sobey Art Award (2014), the Pratt & Whitney “Les Elles de l’art” prize from the Conseil des Arts de Montréal (2011), the award for artistic creation for the Laurentians region from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (2009), and a grant from the Eiteljord Museum (2003).