Meryl McMaster uses photography to explore how we construct our sense of self through our perceptions of lineage, history and culture. Having both Indigenous and European (English, Dutch) heritage, this Canadian-based artist believes that creating one’s identity is a subjective, indeterminate and open-ended process, one that is shaped by internal and external actions and experiences. The titles that McMaster bestows upon her photographic series - Ancestral, In-Between Worlds and Wanderings – serve as oblique clues to her way of thinking about identity.
Stylistically, McMaster’s digital chromogenic prints are tightly constructed, visual narratives that leave little to photographic chance. And most are self-portraits. In the Ancestral series photographs she has projected historical images of Indigenous people onto her own and her father’s visage creating a provocative interplay between past and present. In the prints from the Wanderings and In-Between Worlds series, McMaster casts herself as the protagonist who acts out highly scripted but mysterious narratives in carefully crafted tableaux. In these shape-shifting scenes that project a surreal or dreamlike quality, McMaster’s merges her human identity with that of animals or Shamanistic beings through the costumes she wears. As such, she addresses self-identity as a fluid concept where the animal world elides with that of humans, and the past with the present. In Wanderings, her most recent series, McMaster continues to synthesize roles and time periods, feigning the identity of a territorial explorer, a seeker of lost truths, and a pathfinder to the unknown.
Meryl McMaster is a Plains Cree member of the Siksika Nation, and is also of British and Dutch ancestry. Since 2012, her work has been shown widely in more than 30 solo and group exhibitions across Canada and the United States. In the fall of 2015, the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, exhibited McMaster’s Wandering series, and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American in New York City featured her Second Self series. Select images from her Ancestral series were shown at Bockley Gallery. She also participated in numerous group exhibitions across Canada.
In 2010 McMaster graduated with a BFA from the Ontario College of Art and Design, now OCAD University, in Toronto, ON with a concentration in Photography. Currently she is on the long list for the Sobey Art Award. In 2015 she received a Visual Artists: Emerging Grant from the Ontario Arts Council, and in 2013 a Creation & Production Grant for Emerging Artists, from the City of Ottawa. In 2013 she was also an Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellow, a coveted award from The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 2012 she was awarded the Charles Pachter Prize for Emerging Artists from The Hnatyshyn Foundation in Ottawa.
McMaster’s work has been acquired by various public collections including the Smithsonian National Museum of American Indian, the Canadian Museum of History, Art Gallery of Ontario, the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada Art Collection, the Canada Council Art Bank, the Eiteljorg Museum, and the Donovan Collection.