nehiyaw (Plains Cree)/English/Scottish/Dutch, b. 1988
What Will I Say to the Sky and the Earth II, 2019
Chromogenic print mounted to aluminum composite panel, ed. 1/5
Heard Museum Collection, Gift of Kathleen L. and William G. Howard
Meryl McMaster’s conceptual photographs represent movement, space, the natural world and the artist’s multifaceted heritage as a person of Plains Cree, British and Dutch descent. In her work What Will I Say to the Sky and Earth, II (2019), McMaster is seen in a glacial landscape with a brilliant shock of blue sky behind her. She is pictured in a floor-length gown which almost disappears against the white backdrop of the snow except for the red mayflies that cover it. The artist’s arms are slightly open, as though she is about to embrace or commune with a figure not pictured. The costumes McMaster constructs and wears are armor- like; they often feature insects and animals that are able to fly, such as mayflies, butterflies, ravens and bumblebees.The significance of flying beings is that these creatures are able to move and travel freely, unhampered by borders or nations. These winged beings are also knowledge-keepers whose behavior can warn against the devastating effects of climate change and chemical warfare wrought upon the natural world. Instead of thinking what we will say to the sky and earth, the artist listens.
Meryl McMaster is known for her large-format photographic self-portraits that have a distinct performative quality, where she explores questions of self through land, lineage, history, and culture, incorporating the production of props and sculptural garments to form a synergy that transports the viewer out of the ordinary and into a space of contemplation and introspection. McMaster is the recipient of the Scotiabank New Generation Photography Award, the REVEAL Indigenous Art Award, the Charles Pachter Prize for Emerging Artists, the Canon Canada Prize, the Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship, and the OCAD University Medal, and she was shortlisted for the New Discovery Award Arles 2019, the Prix de la Photo “Madame Figaro” Arles 2019, and longlisted for the 2016 Sobey Art Award. McMaster’s work has been included in solo and group exhibitions throughout Canada and internationally, including the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto, the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (New York), Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England.