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June 6, 2002 Nadia Myre's art project is already at the McCord



Nadia Myre

Nadia Myre is graduating with her MFA this spring.

Photo by Christian Fleury

by James Martin

In 1999, Nadia Myre’s academic advisor took her to see an exhibit of Iroquois beadwork. The seemingly small moment had a huge impact on her artistic direction. “I probably wouldn’t be making this kind of work, explained the graduating MFA student, “if Barbara Layne hadn’t brought me to the McCord Museum.”

A graduate of the Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design, Myre came to Concordia with what Professor Layne calls “a challenging attitude and portfolio of edgy street graffiti.” The McCord exhibit, however, struck a chord with Myre’s investigation of her Algonkin-Québécois heritage, and she became interested in the “huge history” of beadwork.

“Beading is political,” said Myre, whether it’s simply the personal contribution to an age-old continuum (such as beading a traditional flower design), or consciously reworking loaded imagery (such as beading a Hydro-Québec logo). “I really do see beading as an act of silent resistance.”

Beading plays a huge role in Myre’s MFA final project, Cont(r)act, which was curated by Concordia art history grad Rhonda Meier. Myre describes Cont(r)act as being “specific to my own investigations into identity, but also a bit broader, in that it’s about two cultures co-existing.”

For Indian Act, Myre enlisted over 230 beaders (many were Concordia Fine Arts students, others recruited from weekly beadings at the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal and Concordia’s Centre for Native Education, others still found via ads in the Montreal Mirror) to help her “bead over” 56 pages of Canada’s Indian Act.

Some of the pages are completely obscured by beadwork (white beads are substituted for the text, letter-for-letter — in between are red beads, creating a Morse-code-like effect), others are only partially covered. The framed pages are, as the titular pun hints, a powerful act. “The Indian Act is a document that controls Indian lives today,” Myre explained, “but it was never translated into a Native tongue — yet it describes who and what a Native person is. Native people have a love-hate relationship with it, so to bead over it was to kind of reclaim it, and erase it.”

Other sculptures in Cont(r)act continue along this theme of “negotiation of space between people, as understood through material.” The 17th-century treaty between Dutch settlers and the Iroquois is directly invoked by Monument to Two-Row, Revised, which Myre created working from photographs of the controversial and rarely-seen beaded wampum belt.
In History in Two Parts, Myre fused aluminum and birchbark to create a full-size hybrid canoe. A video loop titled Portrait of a Self in Motion shows Myre paddling this same craft in misty waters, subtly riffing on the well-worn film image of “spotting an Indian amid the beauty of the wilderness.”

Myre’s work is getting noticed. Both the Indian Art Centre and the Canadian Museum of Civilization have purchased pages from her Indian Act, and she’s received significant grants from the Canada Council, le Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, and the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation. Barbara Layne says Cont(r)act is just the beginning.

“Nadia has a very promising future that will significantly contribute to the dialogues surrounding colonial histories, personal identities and the complexities of hybrid cultures.”

Myre is currently planning a new project involving beading, but doesn’t want to reveal too much at this stage. Fresh from the massive undertaking of Cont(r)act, however, she admits to hoping for a bit of a breather. “I think for right now,” she said with a laugh, “I’m going to stick to beading small logos.”

Cont(r)act runs at the Oboro Gallery (4001 rue Berri) until June 15. A show catalogue is forthcoming this fall.