Eyes watching and other work

November 11 – December 18, 2021
Opening: Thursday, November 11, 2021 from 5:00 to 7:00 pm
Nadia Myre: Eyes watching and other work

Text by Sevan Injejikian

Nadia Myre’s [In]tangible Tangles (2021) presents a new series of photographic prints of moccasins taken from the online collection database of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. The images in Myre’s work are cropped and treated with a colour inversion that covers them in a purple hue evocative of wampum made of quahog clam shells. The X-ray-like quality of her photographs recalls infrared reflectography used to uncover underdrawings or hidden paintings under works of art and begins to reveal how Western institutions naturalize North American foundational myths through historical erasure.

The artist’s choice of medium engages with the history of photography and its complicity in the ecology of colonial violence. Emerging alongside the fields of anthropology and ethnography, early photography was used to document, classify, and map Indigenous territories and peoples as part of colonial expansionist projects. Myre intentionally selects images that display moccasins with their toes pointing upward. Framed as objects, the moccasins suggest a missing subject, and evoke the absence of a body or a corpse. An absence that alludes to the countless Indigenous peoples killed since the onset of European expansionism in the 15th century, and the recent discoveries of over 1300 unmarked graves at the site of former residential schools in Canada. The artist’s photographs echo the temporary memorials of shoes that honored missing and murdered residential school children.

Myre’s artistic intervention in the Smithsonian’s database is a decolonial gesture that interrogates Western institutional practices in the collection, conservation, and display of material culture that belongs to Indigenous peoples, and that has yet to be repatriated to their communities.1 The information included in the Smithsonian’s records is left out of Myre’s work. Mainly descriptive, the catalogue’s indexes are often missing traces of the individuals who made the moccasins. Instead, they create a typology of Otherness by marking the names of Indigenous tribes directly on the moccasins’ hide. A branding of sorts; an act that usually claimed ownership of livestock, or of those who fell outside the category of ‘human’ as defined by settler-colonial, white supremacist heteronormativity. By freeing the image from the institution’s claims to authority, Myre challenges Westerncentric modes of knowledge production, and opens up an alternative, discursive space of encounter between the artist, artwork, and audience.

Nadia Myre is an interdisciplinary artist based in Montreal, Quebec. An Algonquin member of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, her work explores the politics of identity within a framework of Indigenous resilience and futurity.

Myre’s work has been exhibited extensively. In 2017—2018, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts held Myre’s first survey exhibition Tout ce qui rest/Scattered Remains. Her recent exhibitions include Volume 0 (Zuecca Project, Venice, 2019), Balancing Acts (Textile Museum, Toronto, 2019), and Code Switching and Other Work (The Briggait, Glascow International, 2018), among others. Myre is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2014 Sobey Art Award.

1. For a discussion on material and immaterial cultural belongings and Indigenous heritage, see Jordan Wilson, “‘Belongings’ in ‘c̓əsnaʔəm: the City before the City,’” IPinCH (Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage: Theory, Practice, Policy, Ethics), Simon Fraser University, 27 Jan. 2016, https://www.sfu.ca/ipinch/outputs/blog/citybeforecitybelongings