Art

Drawn Self-Portraits Materialized as Masks

Meryl McMaster, "Meryl 2" (2010), digital chromogenic print, 36 x 36 inches (courtesy the artist and Katzman Contemporary)
Meryl McMaster, “Meryl 2” (2010), digital chromogenic print, 36 x 36 inches (courtesy the artist and Katzman Contemporary)

For her Second Self photography series, Canadian artist Meryl McMaster asked her subjects to blindly draw single-line contous of their faces, which she then sculpted into wire masks. Worn over their skin, all painted a ghostly and theatrical white, the large-scale portraits consider the construction and perception of identity.

Selections from the 2010–11 series are on view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York. Meryl McMaster: Second Self is a small exhibition in the long hallway just outside the longterm Infinity of Nations installation, but worth a stop to see an emerging artist who, with distinct and striking imagery, is exploring the layers of identity. McMaster, based in Ottawa, Ontario, is a Plains Cree member of the Siksika Nation, which along with her Dutch and British ancestry inspires much of her art where heritage is a constantly evolving personal history.

'Meryl McMaster: Second Self' installation view (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
‘Meryl McMaster: Second Self’ installation view (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Since McMaster graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design in 2010, her projects have included Ancestral, in which late 19th-century archive images of aboriginal people were projected on subjects, mixing the present and past. Later her In-Between Worlds included elaborate costumes and talismans to consider cross-cultural influences, both indigenous and European. In one a dark bird-headed figure crouches in the snow, and in another human hands with sticks bound to fingers like claws and arms covered with feathers reach around a tree. Some of the images from In-Between Worlds are currently installed on the exterior of Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. Later this month, her new project Wandering opens at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe.

In all these series, the process of their creation is visible, and feels like something still in flux. The wire masks in Second Self are simultaneously abstract attempts to capture what should be most familiar — our own faces — and also a form of costuming, facilitating what we do everyday: play with the different selves we present as our own identities.

Meryl McMaster, "Jin" (2010), digital chromogenic print, 36 x 36 inches (courtesy the artist and Katzman Contemporary)
Meryl McMaster, “Jin” (2010), digital chromogenic print, 36 x 36 inches (courtesy the artist and Katzman Contemporary)
Meryl McMaster, "Anthony" (2010), digital chromogenic print, 36 x 36 inches (courtesy the artist and Katzman Contemporary)
Meryl McMaster, “Anthony” (2010), digital chromogenic print, 36 x 36 inches (courtesy the artist and Katzman Contemporary)
Meryl McMaster, "Fred" (2010), digital chromogenic print, 36 x 36 inches (courtesy the artist and Katzman Contemporary)
Meryl McMaster, “Fred” (2010), digital chromogenic print, 36 x 36 inches (courtesy the artist and Katzman Contemporary)
Meryl McMaster, "Jordan" (2010), digital chromogenic print, 36 x 36 inches (courtesy the artist and Katzman Contemporary)
Meryl McMaster, “Jordan” (2010), digital chromogenic print, 36 x 36 inches (courtesy the artist and Katzman Contemporary)
Meryl McMaster, "Pia" (2010), digital chromogenic print, 36 x 36 inches (courtesy the artist and Katzman Contemporary)
Meryl McMaster, “Pia” (2010), digital chromogenic print, 36 x 36 inches (courtesy the artist and Katzman Contemporary)
Meryl McMaster, "Logan" (2010), digital chromogenic print, 36 x 36 inches (courtesy the artist and Katzman Contemporary)
Meryl McMaster, “Logan” (2010), digital chromogenic print, 36 x 36 inches (courtesy the artist and Katzman Contemporary)
'Meryl McMaster: Second Self' installation view (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
‘Meryl McMaster: Second Self’ installation view (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
'Meryl McMaster: Second Self' installation view (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
‘Meryl McMaster: Second Self’ installation view (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Meryl McMaster: Second Self continues at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York (One Bowling Green, Lower Manhattan) through December 11. 

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