Nadia Myre, visual artist of Aboriginal ancestry (born in 1974 in Montréal, Québec). Nadia Myre is a multidisciplinary artist whose practice draws its inspiration from the audience’s participation, as well as from recurring themes of identity, language, desire and loss. She is very active on the Canadian art scene and participated in the Biennale of Sydney in 2012 and the Shanghai Biennale in 2014, the same year that she received the Sobey Art Award.
Early Years, Education and Early Career
Nadia Myre was born of a French Canadian father and an Algonquin mother. In 1997, she and her mother claimed and obtained their Indian status in Canada, thus making their membership in the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation (see Maniwaki) official. Having grown up off reserve, the artist has spent her entire career exploring the problems of belonging, community and divided identity.
Myre completed her master’s degree in plastic arts at Concordia University in Montréal in 2002. That same year, she had her first solo exhibition, Cont[r]act, curated by Rhonda L. Meier, at the Oboro Gallery in Montréal. The exhibition consisted of nine eminently critical works created between 1997 and 2002. In creating her 2002 installations Monument to Two-Row and Portrait as a River, Divided, the artist drew inspiration from wampum, belts of beads with coded patterns traditionally used to ratify treaties between Aboriginal nations. Myre thus tackled the way that the history of the encounter between the European and Iroquois peoples has been written. In both works, she used two parallel lines to represent the two nations making their way side by side, but depicted them in a blurry, fluid, hybrid way. By thus reappropriating wampum as a tool for communication and commemoration, Myre was able to rewrite history without disguising its problematic passages and underlying racial tensions. The historical timeline was rendered as a scar, which was to become a dominant motif in her later work.
Myre again used beadwork (the art of ornamenting objects with threaded beads) in Indian Act (2000–03), a colossal piece that also was shown at the Cont[r]act exhibition. In this work, inspired by the many bureaucratic obstacles that her mother had faced when trying to recover her Indian status, the young artist denounced the racism embodied in Canada’s federal Indian Act of 1876 by reinterpreting its first five chapters — 56 pages in all. Assisted by 250 collaborators who answered her call for help, she reproduced each page on a piece of fabric the size of a sheet of typing paper, with white beads for the text and red beads for the background. With a goal of personal and collective healing, the artist and her collaborators reappropriated and denounced this artifact of colonialism through an artistic approach that was simultaneously Aboriginal, communitarian and female.
Having explored one aspect of her traditional Aboriginal culture by learning beadwork and practising it collectively, Myre went on to explore concepts of the body — quite often, her own body — and thereby confront the tensions over identity that the body contains. In works such as Everything I Know About Love (2004) and the series The Scar Project (2005), scars embroidered on canvas became tactile symbols in stories of wounding and survival. In The Scar Project, as in Indian Act, Myre enlisted numerous helpers. Over the 10 years that this project continued, some 1,400 members of the public answered her call to attend workshops where they used various materials to embroider canvases with representations of the scars in their own identities, then provided written explanations to accompany them.
National Symbols Revisited
Nadia Myre exploits the strength of symbols and words in many of her works. In her video Inkanatatation (2004), she had herself tattooed with a version of the Canadian Flag in which the maple leaf was replaced with three feathers, symbolizing the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. Thus Myre attacked one of Canada’s great national symbols (see Emblems of Canada) in a gesture of identity-based resistance, territorial reappropriation and decolonization. In another video, entitled Rethinking Anthem (2008), she critically revisited the phrase “Our home and native land” in Canada’s national anthem, “O Canada.” The video camera, mounted over a table, captured the hands of the artist simultaneously erasing the words home and while writing the words native land.
Grandmothers’ Circle and The Dreamers
In the first decade of the 21st century, Myre created a number of installations that raised questions about the place of the individual in the community. In Grandmothers’ Circle (2002), the artist told of her own difficulties in becoming part of an Aboriginal community from which she had long been excluded. In the main part of the installation, a number of curved wooden poles were connected into shapes resembling a closed circle of people joined arm-in-arm. Outside the circle, two straight poles, quite likely representing Myre and her mother, leaned against a wall, rejected by the group. In 2007, the artist presented the installation The Dreamers, which used similar motifs: one group of four upright wooden poles, connected with red string to form a square enclosure; another group of three poles, tied together at their centres with the same red string to form a sort of tepee; and one pole standing alone between them, wrapped with a red string that also anchored it in place. In several other works that Myre created over the years, she used these same scarlet strings again, evoking blood-engorged veins and makeshift bandages to explore the themes of identity, belonging and the connections between the individual, the family and the community.
In the exhibition Nadia Myre : Oraison/Orison, presented at the Oboro Gallery in Montréal in 2014, the artist offered new accounts of several recurring stories in a complex series of installations stretching across a large room plunged in darkness, like a journey through her memory. Onto seven large aluminum plates hanging on the gallery walls, the artist projected images of the backs of seven of the 56 pages of the Indian Act that she and her collaborators had embroidered in beadwork between 2000 and 2003. In this way she revealed the work from an indecipherable angle and demonstrated the complexity of the technique employed to create it. In a white alcove, she choppily projected digitized images of the scars from Scar Project. On the ground she placed a basket woven of strips of wood harvested at Kitiban Zibi and containing small red pouches of healing herbs and tobacco for the visitors to take home. These medicine bags symbolized an exchange and a collective healing, binding the artist and the visitors to each other.
Exhibited both in Canada and internationally, Nadia Myre’s art has received admiring notices in The New York Times and Le Devoir and coverage in the magazines American Craft, ARTnews, Canadian Art, C Magazine and Parachute. Her work is held in numerous collections, including those of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, the Canadian Museum of History (Gatineau and Québec City), the City of Ottawa, the Eiteljorg Museum (Indianapolis), the Fonds régional d’art contemporain de Lorraine (France), the Art Bank of the Canada Council for the Arts, the MacKenzie Art Gallery (Regina), the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, the National Gallery of Canada and the National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, DC).
Awards and Public Recognition
Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art (2003)
Prix à la création artistique pour la région des Laurentides, Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (2009)
Pratt & Whitney Canada Les Elles de l’art prize, Conseil des arts de Montréal (2011)
Sobey Art Award (2014)