Dr. Gerald McMaster to be given honorary degree by University of Saskatchewan

Dr. Gerald McMaster
Tuesday, May 28, 2019 - 9:30am

OCAD University’s Professor Dr. Gerald McMaster will receive an honorary degree from the University of Saskatchewan.  


Born near North Battleford, Sask. on the Red Pheasant First Nation, Dr. Gerald McMaster (PhD) is a Plains Cree artist, curator and professor. In the words of one of his honorary-degree nominators, he has made significant contributions “to visual arts, arts administration, and to inclusion and reconciliation.”


A continuing focus of McMaster’s work has been to increase the representation of Indigenous art and artists in galleries and museums and to modify the way culturally sensitive objects have been handled and displayed. In his current position as a Canada Research Chair, he is working with international collaborators on research projects that examine “contact zones” where two or more cultures interact with each other and explore how relationships affect Indigenous artistic expression. 


McMaster also continues to pursue the question, which has interested him throughout his career, of how Indigenous voices can bring new perspectives to established disciplines such as art, history and anthropology. He is an officer of the Order of Canada and a recipient of a National Aboriginal Achievement Award.


Meet Dr. Gerald McMaster

Dr. Gerald McMaster’s practice in contemporary art, critical theory, museology and Indigenous aesthetics — as an artist, curator and researcher — is about always providing an Indigenous perspective. “I feel that not only is it historically lacking but in this country it would go without saying that the Indigenous perspective is critical to understanding art, history and culture,” he says. 


Dr. McMaster was named Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Visual Culture and Curatorial Practice in 2016, and describes it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do the research he has longed to do. “This position is allowing me the opportunity to focus on important questions about the consequences of creative cultures coming in contact with each other,” he says, explaining that projects address these questions from different historical perspectives and on multiple platforms: text; exhibitions and online. 


At this phase in the research, he’s leading the organization of mountains of material in preparation for analysis. He’s also forging relationships with various international scholars, museums and Indigenous communities, and negotiating with national and international institutions to present the work. 


This year he has curated a retrospective exhibition of the works of the late Sarain Stump for the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina. He is also curator for the Canadian Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. In the fall of 2017, he co-curated The Faraway Nearby: Photographs of Canada from the New York Times Photo Archives at the Ryerson Image Centre. Also in 2017, he organized an international conference titled “The Entangled Gaze: Indigenous and European views of each other” that was jointly sponsored by OCAD U and the Art Gallery of Ontario. 


Dr. McMaster describes his curatorial practice as collaborative. “I feed off the exchange of ideas and approaches of others, as much as I would hope my collaborators do as well,” he says. During his over 30 years as a curator, Dr. McMaster worked in two national museums, in Ottawa and Washington, DC, and in a major Canadian gallery. He brings those experiences, together with that of his extensive writing and public presentations, to the classroom: “From such experiences I have gathered many stories and have met many people that I believe all contribute to the knowledge I can pass onto younger students.” 


“I remember as an art student so many years ago when one art teacher wrote an evaluation of me; he said I was a ‘sponge.’ In other words, he saw in me an eagerness to learn as much as I could,” Dr. McMaster says. “Because we have so much access to everything, this is something I would encourage in all students, because you never know when you will intellectually draw upon such knowledge and experience. I believe OCAD U is an ideal place for students to take these life-long steps.” 


Find out more: https://www2.ocadu.ca/bio/gerald-mcmaster 

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Indigenous summer: Decolonial perspectives on display in Europe


OCAD University’s Gerald McMaster, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Visual Culture and Curatorial Practice, spent several weeks this past summer in Europe touring galleries, museums and exhibitions. Two of the principal shows he attended were Documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany, and the Biennale in Venice, Italy.

InStudio recently caught up with McMaster — he’s a very mobile, rapidly moving man! — to get a glimpse of what he saw. In particular, we wanted to find out more about how Indigenous artists are being represented on the world stage today.

InStudio: Gerald, what drew you to Documenta 14 in Kassel and the Biennale di Venezia? What did you hope to encounter at those exhibitions?

McMaster: Once every 10 years three major European art exhibitions coincide: Documenta (in Kassel and Athens), the Biennale and the Sculpture Project Munster. The next time all three will run concurrently is in 2027. By then, I’ll probably… Well, let’s just say I’ll be there!

But back to your question. I already had planned to participate in a conference in London and to visit Amsterdam and Rome, when Art in America asked me to write a piece on Documenta 14 and the Biennale [Ed note: McMaster’s essay “Under Indigenous Eyes” appears in the October 2017 print edition]. The journal wanted me to pay particular attention to the growing Indigenous presence in the visual arts (to be fair, there were more works in those shows than what appears in my essay, but the editors hold the final scissors). Of the two exhibitions, Documenta by far had the greatest representation of Indigenous artists. In Venice, there were some in the main presentation, while countries such as Australia and New Zealand were themselves represented this year by Indigenous artists, both of whom turned to cinema for their medium. In the New Zealand pavilion, for instance, Lisa Reihana appropriated French Neoclassical visual tropes to query European colonialism in the South Pacific in her massive video panorama in Pursuit of Venus.

For me as a scholar, the motivation to attend these exhibitions also involved exploring the abilities of the curator to understand and articulate the growing decolonial phenomenon. Across the visual culture spectrum this is becoming an important discursive act that is actually resulting in good art being produced.

Lisa Reihana, New Zealand Pavilion, Venice Biennale July 2017

InStudio: Speaking of your scholarship, one of the thrusts of your current research is on how Indigenous artists — past and present — "reverse the gaze." Would you briefly explain that concept? Did you see evidence of it in Kassel and Venice this summer?

McMaster: My interest in this concept stems from a desire to give voice to a particular way of seeing. This line of inquiry began for me many years ago after reading theorists such as Jacques Lacan and Kaja Silverman, especially their ideas of the “screen” — the concept that our perceptions or subjectivity are mediated by the things we see and experience. In other words, culture acts as a screen through which we see and interpret the world.

So, for example, if you’re projected or represented negatively you’re going to perceive yourself as less than or inferior. For Indigenous peoples, the barrage of one-dimensional, often demonizing images in art and popular culture led many of us to believe in these stereotypes.

But now things are changing. In Kassel and Venice I saw exciting evidence of how Indigenous artists around the world are reversing the gaze. Contemporary art has become universalized to the degree that mainstream artists from Europe or parts of North America no longer hold absolute sway. The works of Indigenous artists from many parts of the world are being taken seriously and not just derisively categorized — or criticized — as anthropological specimens. Their presence at these major European exhibitions suggested to me a particular kind of voice that was being heard. At the Arsenale in Venice, for instance, drawings by the late Cape Dorset artist Kananginak Pootoogook complicated the self-decolonization narrative in inspiring ways. Equally fascinating was the way some non-Indigenous artists held up mirrors of their own to reflect — sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much — on the dominance of Western views of the Other.

Kananginak Pootoogook, Venice Biennale July 2017

InStudio: Many Indigenous artists today are concerned with the expression and mediation of “traditional knowledge.” Could you elaborate on this issue? What’s motivating it? Did it feature in works you saw at Documenta 14 and the Biennale?

McMaster: There is a problem with trying to understand how traditional knowledge operates at the level of art. First of all, it doesn’t fit the usual parameters of how art is viewed. For that reason, art that’s informed by traditional knowledge has often been slotted under “ethnology.”

Recently, however, the growing interest in materiality has led many artists to conduct research into old (and, often, new) techniques and practices. For example, one artist from Mali — Aboubakar Fofana — whose work I encountered this summer at Kassel, has been researching indigo. While learning about its botanical properties, he’s also creating works of art. I also was drawn to works by Abel Rodríquez Muinane, a Nonuya artist from the Cahuinarí region of Colombia, who uses non-Indigenous materials (paper, pencil, and watercolours) to draw not just the flora and fauna of his native Amazon. In immense detail, he also identifies their source, their medicinal power, their relation to Indigenous cultures, and so on. Such traditional knowledge had both visual and intellectual power. From closer to home, the late Kwakwaka’wakw artist Beau Dick showed Documenta visitors the masks he made as well as how his community used them. Dick, whose masks travelled from Vancouver Island to Germany in a ceremonial procession, revealed the power Northwest Coast masks have in both ritual and artistic contexts, and that sometimes the two can overlap without subverting each other.

Beau Dick, Kassel, Documenta July 2017

InStudio: One of the themes of your research is “global Indigeneity” within the contemporary art world. What are the major facets of that movement?

McMaster: First of all, global indigeneity is a movement to counter colonization. In the contemporary context, this may involve responding to homogeneity and erasure, two of the hallmarks of modernity and globalism. And, despite the adjective “global,” it entails a deep awareness of and respect for the local, however that may be articulated.

Global indigeneity is also concerned with the contact zones of cultural practices. In the vast networking of exhibitions such as Venice and Kassel, this idea suggests mutual respect and understanding, the celebration of difference. This idea might, in fact, not be an artistic practice so much as it is a curatorial endeavour. Artists are more apt to consider ideas such as agency and self-representations. Curators, on the other hand, are in positions to weave critical dialogues on such topics.

InStudio: If you could choose one piece you saw in Kassel or Venice that struck a particularly resonant chord inside you, what would it be and why?

McMaster: I would say the young Sami artist Máret Ánn Sara’s stunning work Pile o’ Sàpmi, which I witnessed at Kassel. It’s actually a work in various forms that were scattered in two large spaces within the same building. The first encounter is of a giant curtain of reindeer skulls subtly dyed and hung to resemble the Sami flag. Talk about a reverse gaze as the skulls peer down at the visitor! Sara’s work addresses issues of colonial rule and the enforcement of reindeer herding that is totally at odds with Sami practices, and its politics become supercharged in a venue that probably knows or cares little about such local concerns.

But it was Sara’s surprising North American reference that truly riveted my attention: in another part of the building she showed two back-lit photographs, one of a pile of severed reindeer heads and another of the (in)famous photograph from western Canada showing a mountain of buffalo skulls. This latter image has become a symbol of the wanton colonialist disregard for an entire species as well as for the Indigenous peoples of the prairies who relied on this animal for their very existence. Through Sara’s art, it was both deeply moving and troubling to witness this tragic trans-cultural history repeating itself.

Maret Ann Sara, Kassel, Documenta, July 2017

InStudio correspondent Morgan Holmes is a writer and editor based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His main areas of expertise are post-secondary education, the arts, and health care. When he's not wrangling words, Morgan enjoys making a racket on the Great Highland bagpipes.

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OCAD U and AGO present The Entangled Gaze conference

Wednesday, October 18, 2017 - 6:00pm to Friday, October 20, 2017 - 7:00pm

Entangled Gaze convenes an interdisciplinary group of scholars, museum professionals, artists, and Indigenous community members from North America and Europe, to explore post-contact histories as they have been expressed through Indigenous art and visual culture.

Presenters include:

Kent Monkman, Barry Ace, Rosalie Favel, Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie, Embassy of Imagination, Lisa Myers; scholars Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, Rainer Hatoum, Kaitlin McCormick, Jonathan King, Nicole Perry, Monika Siebert, Christopher Green, Anna Brus, Markus Lindner, Rick Hill; and curators Wanda Nanibush, Nika Collison Jisgang, Kathryn Bunn-Marcuse, Nii Q. Quarcoopome, and Candace Greene.

The opening reception at Provo Food Bar features storyteller Drew Hayden Taylor, who uses humour to address the profound and entangled relationships between Indigenous and Euro-Canadians.

Tickets may be purchased online.
Public: $75
Students: $45



Left image: Sea Captain Figure, c. 1840. Haida, Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia. Argillite, ivory, 46.8 x 13.5 x 8 cm. Purchased with Funds from the Estate of Mary Eileen Ash, 2008. Image © 2017 Art Gallery of Ontario 2008/43

Right image: Paul Kane. Death of Omoxesisisany or Big Snake, 1858 c – 1859. Embossed chromo lithograph on paper, 17.2 x 46.1 cm. Gift of Robert Hunter, 2006. © 2017 Art Gallery of Ontario 2006/29

Venue & Address: 
AGO and OCAD University, see schedule: http://www.entangledgaze.ca/schedule/
Peter Scott pscott@faculty.ocadu.ca
Tickets may be purchased online Public: $75 Students: $45 https://ago.ca/events/entangled-gaze-indigenous-and-european-views-each-other
Poster for event, features painting of an Indigenous persons on horseback, and a sculpture of a European captain

Gerald McMaster heading to 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale

Dr. Gerald McMaster, photo by Sebastian Kriete
Wednesday, September 20, 2017

OCAD U’s Gerald McMaster, together with an Indigenous design team, is representing Canada at 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. The Canada Council for the Arts announced that the Indigenous project UNCEDED has been selected through a national juried competition to represent Canada at the Architecture Biennale. 

Led by internationally-renowned architect Douglas Cardinal, the team includes Anishnaabe Elders and Indigenous co-curators, Dr. Gerald McMaster, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Visual Culture and Curatorial Practice at OCAD University, and Dr. David Fortin, incoming director of the McEwen School of Architecture at Laurentian University. Joining them is a decorated group of Indigenous architects from across North America.

“Having represented Canada as curator to the 1995 Venice Biennale of Visual Arts, and to be asked to be lead curator by such a distinguished group of Indigenous architects is both an honour and privilege," says Dr. McMaster. 

UNCEDED will emphasize and celebrate the work of Indigenous architects and designers throughout Turtle Island. It is grounded in the legacy of the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report.

Dr. McMaster has more than 30 years of international work and expertise in contemporary art, critical theory, museology and Indigenous aesthetics. Throughout his career, his championing of the mainstream value of Indigenous art, among other things, has led to his being chosen to represent Canada at a number of prestigious international events.

OCAD U’s Gerald McMaster co-curates exhibition from New York Times photo archive

Archival photo of a person looking at posters of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, 1968
Thursday, August 24, 2017

This fall, the Ryerson Image Centre (RIC) will explore a century of Canada’s history through photographs from The New York Times Photo Archive. Titled The Faraway Nearby, the exhibition examines how the country has been understood and discussed in relation to its closest geographical, political, and cultural neighbour.

The Faraway Nearby is organized by Denise Birkhofer, RIC Collections Curator & Research Centre Manager, and Gerald McMaster, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Visual Culture & Curatorial Practice at OCAD University. 

“As I reflect on the many meanings of Canada’s 150th birthday, I am continually reminded that we are living in the age of truth and reconciliation,” says McMaster. “I believe this means that we can, at last, honestly discuss and debate the history, merits, and future of this country, as well as recognize and embrace all the groups who have so often been cast into its social, cultural, and economic shadows.”

To mark Canada 150, the exhibition will kick off with a party, open to the public, on Wednesday, September 13, 6:00 to 8:00 pm. It will remain on view until December 10, 2017. 

The Faraway Nearby showcases more than 200 images from the RIC’s newest collection, a cache of nearly 25,000 press photographs chronicling Canadian news, drawn from The New York Times Photo Archive.

The exhibition highlights images of major political events and conflicts, iconic landscapes across the nation, sports heroes, candid reportage on the lives of diverse communities, and portraits of notable Canadians. A photo book by the same name will be published in conjunction with the exhibition by Black Dog Publishing.

Caption: Photographer unknown, [Trudeaumania, Toronto, Ontario], 1968, gelatin silver print.  The Rudolph P. Bratty Family Collection, Ryerson Image Centre


Select Afilliations and Publications of Dr. Gerald McMaster

Indigenous creative culture: Gerald McMaster on Indigenous art past and present, worlds seen and beyond sight

Gerald McMaster

Since the dawn of history, art has enabled people the world over to understand themselves, their environments and their relations with others. That “ethical” dimension of art as it is brought into being by Indigenous artists is at the heart of Dr. Gerald McMaster’s current research and exhibition.

McMaster is a Plains Cree and a member of the Siksika First Nation. Since February 2016, he’s also been OCAD University’s Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Indigenous Visual Culture and Curatorial Practice (the first researcher at an art and design university to be awarded a prestigious Tier-1 CRC appointment). To this position, McMaster brings decades of experience as a writer, artist and curator who has worked at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).

Indigenous creative culture

While his official CRC title references “visual culture,” McMaster’s research in fact challenges Western society’s longstanding privileging of sight over other senses, perhaps especially in the study of art.

“The term Indigenous creative culture suits my interests far better,” says McMaster. “When we replace ‘visual’ with ‘creative,’ we open up to a much broader spectrum of perception and expression. I have been struck, for instance, by the limitations of sight when trying to understand how past Indigenous artists took into consideration not just their material surroundings but also the unseen world. And, among contemporary Indigenous artists, I’m detecting a powerful movement to explore a wider range of sensorial experiences.”



Making contact



Vision, nevertheless, is an important metaphor in several of McMaster’s CRC research projects, notably one focusing on the reverse gaze. “For most of colonial and post-colonial history, it’s been a scholarly one-way street,” McMaster notes. “We’ve primarily concerned ourselves with how Europeans and their descendants saw and represented Indigenous peoples. But what happens when we turn the gaze around? How did Indigenous peoples see and depict newcomers?”

McMaster was first drawn to this question by the discovery on Baffin Island, in the early 1970s, of a small wooden sculpture of a Nordic traveller made by an Inuit carver ca. 1250. More recently, his interest was galvanized through involvement with the AGO’s acquisition of a rare Haida sculpture from the 1860s of a European sea captain. Since then, McMaster has broadened his scope to understand and document further examples of the reverse gaze across North America and beyond.






“I’m fascinated by phenomenology,” McMaster reveals, “and by the lens it offers for understanding the interconnections among people, land, religion, other animals, art.”

On this topic, McMaster recommends David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World (1996).

Could there be two more different regions than the Arctic and Amazonia? Separated by vast distances and subject to utterly different climate conditions, have the original peoples of those two zones anything in common?

As McMaster and his collaborator — Dr. Iris Edenheiser of the Reiss-Engelhorn Museen in Mannheim, Germany — endeavour to tackle these and other questions, one of the issues that fascinates them is the history of European representation of both the Arctic and Amazonia as “fantastical, mysterious” places. In addition, McMaster and Edenheiser are seeking to document the material technology Indigenous peoples used to survive in those challenging environments.

And that topic brings up a major thrust of their Arctic–Amazonia research project: “How are Indigenous artists in those regions representing one of humanity’s fiercest, most widespread threats: global climate change?”

Cape Dorset and Papunya

Image of African inspired mask projecting from third eye
Geronimo Inutiq, ULU (woman’s knife), digital print on linen, 32” x 32”, edition of 7

“The contemporary rise of ‘indigeneity’,” McMaster explains, “concerns the maintenance and expression of an Indigenous sensibility in a globalized world.” McMaster’s third CRC project — examining Indigenous artists communities at Cape Dorset (on Baffin Island) and Papunya (in Australia’s Northern Territory) — cracks open that subject by exploring the history, present and future of those “isolated” (a “southern projection”) places.

Working with Steven Gilchrist, an Indigenous scholar from Australia, McMaster hopes to illuminate the cultural, social and political forces at play in both communities. How, in Papunya and Cape Dorset, did artists who had never been trained in conventional art schools produce works that have gained such international acclaim? And how are changing economic circumstances — regionally and in the international art market — affecting Indigenous artists and their communities?



Indian Acts



Image of African inspired mask projecting from third eye
Sonny Assu, #photobomb, acrylic on panel, 40” x 84”

Many threads of McMaster’s Indigenous creative culture research are woven into Indian Acts: Truths in the Age of Reconciliation, an exhibition he has curated at Toronto’s Katzman Contemporary gallery. Indian Acts draws together the works of three young Indigenous artists: Sonny Assu, Nicholas Galanin and Geronimo Inutiq (madeskimo).

For McMaster, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s reports “made it clear that Canadian society remained surprisingly oblivious when it came to the nihilistic authority enshrined in the Indian Act.” Through the artists and works he selected for presentation at the Katzman, McMaster explores “a legacy that continues to reverberate among Indigenous peoples, both individually and collectively.”



With thanks to Marianne Katzmann and Dario Del Degan for generously sharing the Indian Acts exhibition images used in this article.



The art that appears at the top of this feature is Nicholas Galanin's S'igeika'awu: Ghost #002.

Morgan Holmes
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Dr. Gerald McMaster named Canada Research Chair

Photo of Dr. Gerald McMaster by Sebastian Kriete
Tuesday, February 9, 2016 - 3:00pm

Groundbreaking curator, author, artist and educator Dr. Gerald McMaster has been named Tier 1 Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Indigenous Visual Culture & Curatorial Practice at OCAD University.

 “My position will enable me to be part of a uniquely vibrant community of students, researchers and creators,” said McMaster. “I am looking forward to learning from and working with them as I seek to expand knowledge of the ways transnational contact has affected artistic expression among Indigenous people, as well as the influence of those expressions on non-Indigenous societies.”

McMaster has held prestigious curatorial positions at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. In 2006 he was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada.

“We are grateful to the Government of Canada for supporting us in this unprecedented scholarship of Indigenous art history told through Indigenous voices,” said Dr. Sara Diamond, President and Vice-Chancellor. “To be the first art and design university to receive a Tier 1 CRC appointment is recognition of OCAD University’s strong research agenda.”

McMaster’s work will examine the ways in which cultures interact, influencing and inspiring one another. How can Indigenous artists engage with the non-Indigenous world while maintaining their difference? How does the vitality of Indigenous voice express and contribute knowledge to the global conversation on climate? How did Indigenous artists and cultures view their colonizers in the context of their art?

Born near North Battleford, Saskatchewan, McMaster (Plains Cree/Member of the Siksika First Nation) studied at the Institute of American Indian Art and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, receiving his MA in Anthropology at Carleton University, Ottawa. He completed his doctorate at the University of Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, Theory and Interpretation under renowned cultural theorist Mieke Bal. 

McMaster served as Canadian Commissioner for the Venice Biennale and Artistic Director of the Biennale of Sydney, Australia. He is currently collaborating on three major international projects in Europe, South America and Australia.

McMaster also teaches undergraduate courses in OCAD University’s Indigenous Visual Culture program (INVC) and leads a graduate seminar in exhibition issues in the Criticism & Curatorial Practice program.

OCAD University would like to thank the Canada Foundation for Innovation for providing infrastructure support for McMaster’s lab.