Exceeding the Limits of Reconciliation: ‘Decolonial Aesthetic Activism’ in the Artwork of Canadian Artist Meryl McMaster

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Allyson Green


In this paper I consider whether, and if so how artistic creative uncertainty can facilitate processes of imagining new relationships between Indigenous peoples and settlers. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s model of reconciliation seems to promise improved Indigenous/settler relationships, yet many Indigenous scholars and allies question the efficacy of it as an approach to expedite relationship-building. For that reason, Indigenous critics like David Garneau suggest that alternate methods be deployed such as ‘decolonial aesthetic activism’ in order to build relationships that exceed the limits of reconciliation. Within this model, ambiguous, discordant, and indigestible artworks operate as one method by which we/settlers can become aware of how we are implicated in the structures of settler colonialism. I apply Garneau’s theory by conducting a close reading of the performative self-portraits by Meryl McMaster. My analysis reveals that art can put forward critiques of settler colonialism that unsettle assumptions, thereby creating new spaces for us to imagine worlds otherwise. Accordingly, I argue that McMaster’s art does have the potential to exceed the limits of reconciliation and conclude that critical engagement with her photographs is an important first step in the process that is decolonization, a process that exceeds the limits of reconciliation.

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Author Biography

Allyson Green, Carleton University

Allyson Green is currently a PhD student at Carleton University in the School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies. Her research explores ways to build new relationships between settlers and Indigenous peoples in Canada through the arts.