Nadia Myre – Acts That Fade Away

Nadia Myre is a Montreal-based artist from the Anishnabeg Kitigan Zibi Nation, an Algonquin First Nation in Quebec. As an indigenous artist, she has devoted her artistic practice to the preservation and presentation of her first nation heritage. Acts That Fade Away was first exhibited in 2016 at the McCord Museum in Montreal, under the title ‘Decolonial Gestures or Doing it Wrong? Refaire Le Chemin’, and now as part of Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival at Ryerson Image Centre.

Installation view of Nadia Myre, Acts That Fade Away at Ryerson Image Centre. Photo: Xiaotong Cao

The exhibition is a multimedia installation, presented in a LED screen divided into eight sections in two rows. An hour-long video is played via the eight screens at the same time. It is a short documentary showing Nadia Myre working. The camera is positioned above her head, only the artist’s hands and forearms are filmed. She is making four pieces of Indigenous-inspired objects in front of a black background and there is no sound or instructions in this video to be heard. The four items are: a pair of baby moccasins, a small basket, a women’s bonnet and a bandolier bag; all being made by following the instructions of nineteenth century women magazines that guided its readers through the process of creating beading products and other handiworks, such as drawing patterns, needling, beading, cutting clothes, hand-stitching and so on.

Nadia Myre, Acts that Fade Away, 2016. Still from Decolonial Gestures or Doing it Wrong? Refaire le chemin. Courtesy of the artist, Art Mûr, and the McCord Museum

In the film all of this work is done by the artist herself. Moccasins are a type of leather shoes mainly worn by babies and toddlers in Indigenous groups, given them as best wishes gifts at their birth. Bandolier bags are special shoulder bags for cartridges, considered as an intimate decorating object. Bonnet are special caps worn by females, while the basket is a functional handicraft – both require highly skillful weaving and stitching techniques.

Nadia Myre, Porte-cheveux Hair-receiver (left) & Panier basket (right) from Decolonial Gestures or Doing it Wrong? Refaire le chemin. Courtesy of the artist, Art Mûr, and the McCord Museum

There are time lags between the screening of the video, therefore, the audiences can watch the parts they are interested in and do not have to pay attention to the entire procedure. Myre is doing her work slowly and meticulously. She selects her materials carefully and assembles them piece by piece until the item is finished. Since all the objects she is making are small, it requires more energy and skill to ensure that there is no mistake in measuring. In this video, Myre demonstrates her patience, dexterity and diligence in creating those articles. The video clearly shows her ability in handcrafting and her passion for it. She might follow instructions, but the way her hands work tell us a lot about her previous experiences and skills in this task.

Installation views of Nadia Myre, Acts That Fade Away at Ryerson Image Centre. Photo: Xiaotong Cao

Myre identifies herself as an Indigenous artist. This video for her is not only the screening of a project but also a demonstration of traditions that should become part of the present and the future. She aims to urge the new generation not only to try to save their heritage but to prevent losing any part of it. Although the video is silent, it is noteworthy to notice that the guidelines the artist is following are coming from nineteenth century European and American magazines. Before that there were no written records or documents to preserve the indigenous handcrafting skills. As Myre wrote, “First Nations collection have lost their cultural function as a result of ‘being collected’ and removed from their communities, and, in turn, many communities have lost the cultural knowledge of these objects. The production of these reimagined pieces epitomizes personal learning, reskilling, as well as a system of knowledge transmission. Their creation allows 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.”

Installation view of Nadia Myre, Acts That Fade Away at Ryerson Image Centre. Photo: Xiaotong Cao

Xiaotong Cao

*Exhibition information: April 28 – August 5, 2018, Ryerson Image Centre, Slah J. Bachir New Media Wall, 33 Gould Street Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue – Fri, 11 – 6, Wed, 11 – 8, Sat – Sun, 12 – 5 pm.


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