As Immense As the Sky at Harbourfront Centre

You have probably walked past the Harbourfront Centre and saw these three installations near the parking lot and around the main entrance. The exhibition As Immense As the Sky has been on view since June in 2021, and it is a selection of three photography works by indigenous artist Meryl McMaster.

The exhibition originally contains nineteen photographs and took three years to make and has exhibited in Canada, the UK, Australia, and France. The photographs capture McMaster’s journey of visiting places where her ancestors have lived and deeply connected with. She tries to trace her ancestral roots and find her personal connections with the lands.

Meryl McMaster grew up in both indigenous and Western culture, Siksika First Nation on her father’s side and British and Dutch on her mother’s side. She constantly experiences the intersection of different worlds and different ideas due to this upbringing. However, because of climate change, she is worried that these ancestral lands would be negatively impacted. She felt an urge to visit these places in search of the lands’ wisdom and knowledge.

McMaster states on her website that she sees “these landscapes as immense time capsules of buried knowledge.” The exhibition is about “walking these ancient paths, experiencing the diversity of panoramas, and learning about my ancestors’ wisdom.”

My Destiny is Entwined With Yours, 2019, Digital C-Print, 40″ x 60″

In the photograph My Destiny is Entwined with Yours, Meryl McMaster is pictured at the top of the Conglomerate Cliffs at Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan. She is looking down at the waterways and trails where indigenous peoples of the Plains would hunt, gather, and travel to sacred locations. It shows that people have always relied on nature and the exploitation of natural resources would inevitably impact our future as well, suggesting that our destinies are entwined with our environment.

What Will I Say to the Sky and the Earth II is taken in Lake Erie in Crystal Beach, Ontario. McMaster is dressed in semi-transparent white garment that blends in with the snow-covered environment. As a result, the red and magnified mayflies and dragonflies really stand out and convey a main message here. In recent years, the number of these water insects have drastically declined, making the local ecosystem of birds and fish unstable. McMaster positions herself in the center trying to protect these water insects and rebalance the equilibrium between the water, the sky, and the Earth.

What Will I Say to the Sky and the Earth II, 2019, Digital C-Print, 40″ x 60″

The backdrop of On the Edge of This immensity is Gore Bay, Manitoulin Island, Ontario. In this picture, McMaster is standing on the edge of the water in this area. Her mother’s ancestors from Holland lived here for a while in the late eighteenth century before eventually settling in Saskatchewan. Contrast to the serene background, the artist carries a boat filled with black birds, perhaps as an attempt to protect them, and looks into the distance beyond the frame. There is a sense of anxiety about the future of these landscapes throughout the exhibition.

On The Edge Of This Immensity, 2019, Digital C-Print, 40″ x 60″

Overall, the exhibition captures McMaster’s reflections on the beautiful and resourceful landscapes of her ancestors. The history and knowledge of the lands are truly immeasurable and invaluable.

Zhiyi Fang

Images are courtesy of Harbourfront Centre

*Exhibition information: Meryl McMaster, As Immense As the Sky, June 22, 2021 – March 27, 2022, Harbourfront Centre Parking – Main Entrance at 235 Queens Quay West, East Side. You can find the complete series on Meryl McMaster’s website

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