Editor’s notebook:
On art and identity

Queen's Alumni Review
2 March 2017

By Andrea Gunn, Editor

When I first started contemplating our cover image for this issue, I had an idea of what I wanted: a piece of contemporary art that was beautiful and complex, personal and provocative. I wanted something that would help convey the many facets of the Indigenous experience in Canada.

And then I found it, in the collection of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre.

Our cover image is niya nêhiyaw (I am all Cree) by Gerald McMaster, OC. Even before I understood the stories in the painting, this work grabbed my attention. When I learned what its images portrayed, I loved it even more. The painting tells Dr. McMaster’s life story, from right to left:

Gerald McMaster, niya nêhiyaw, 1993,acrylic and graphite on unstretched canvas.Agnes Etherington Art Centre. Purchase,Chancellor Richardson Memorial Fund (38-039)

Gerald McMaster, niya nêhiyaw, 1993, acrylic and graphite on unstretched canvas. Agnes Etherington Art Centre. Purchase, Chancellor Richardson Memorial Fund (38-039)

  • At the far right, we see images from his childhood in Saskatchewan.
  • Panning left, we follow him as he learns about art, history, and the shifting trends in nomenclature, from Indian to Native American to Aboriginal or Indigenous. We see the artist being defined and defining himself and his surroundings in different ways.
  • Moving further left, we see Dr. McMaster, now a renowned artist, art curator, teacher, and world traveller, exploring ideas of identity, and challenging representation of Aboriginal Peoples in art and pop culture. At the far left, the message “Mas i Mas” (More to come) signals the yet unwritten/unpainted next chapter of his life story.

My thanks go out to Dr. McMaster for his permission to reproduce this wonderful painting to illustrate our cover story on the Queen’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Task Force.

Image Credits

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