In 2015, as part of her residency at the McCord Museum in Montreal, multidisciplinary artist Nadia Myre created four Indigenous-inspired objects—a pair of baby moccasins, a small basket, a woman’s hair bonnet, and a bandolier bag—guided only by instructions pulled from 19th-century women’s magazines, including The Young Ladies’ Journal (London), Le Conseiller des dames et des demoiselles: Journal d’économie domestique et de travaux à l’aiguille (Paris), and Godey’s Lady’s Book (Philadelphia). These publications regularly featured articles addressing to their well-to-do readers, with instructions for crafting bead and needle handiwork, testifying to a common taste for exoticism in the Victorian era.
In the silent video Acts that Fade Away, Myre follows these instructions as they are read out loud to her by museum staff. Her hands and forearms are filmed from above, isolated against a black backdrop, as she carefully manipulates the needles, threads, patterns, beads, and tools necessary to craft the objects. As her hands work, viewers experience the dedication, dexterity, time, and patience required to accomplish the various tasks. Importantly, the instructions she follows have been redacted to omit the nature of the objects, highlighting the challenges associated with the oral transmission of traditional knowledge. Through the reappropriation of instructions and gestures drawn from European and North American illustrated publications, Myre reclaims Indigenous skills and crafts devalued by colonization. In her words, “museums function as active agents in the process of decontexualization; many artifacts from the First Nations collection have lost their cultural function as a result of ‘being collected’ and removed from their communities, and, in turn, many communities have lost the cultural knowledge of these objects. The production of these reimagined pieces epitomizes personal learning, reskilling, as well as a system of knowledge transmission. Their creation allows me to restore the cognitive processes that have been the backbone of Native cultures; in revitalizing a material practice, I am performing a decolonial gesture and forging a cultural identity.”
Organized by and presented in partnership with the Ryerson Image Centre
Curated by Gaëlle Morel