Caroline Monnet knows History Shall Speak For Itself | Arts + Culture | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Caroline Monnet knows History Shall Speak For Itself

The artists’ Nocturne installation shows Indigenous women in the driver’s seat of their own lives.

Exhibit 200,
Scotia Square second floor window (best viewed from Halifax Transit terminal Bay 1 at Barrington after Duke Street)

When examining the work of Caroline Monnet, two words are bound to come up: Indigenous and regal. 

As a woman with Algonquin, Quebecois and French ancestry, her hybrid portrayals of Indigenous culture and an aesthetic of old-world opulence could be seen as an expression of the self-taught visual artist and filmmaker's own multicultural roots. 

In her Nocturne project, History Shall Speak for Itself, we see a collage of interchanging horizontal strips from two separate images. One image is archival, black-and-white National Film Board footage of Indigenous women performing routine domestic tasks, observed from an outsider's perspective—cold, sociological research. 

This is juxtaposed with a bold, contemporary portrait of Indigenous francophone women artists—including Monnet and her sister, renowned documentarian Alanis Obomsawin, actress Dominique Pétin, costume designer Swaneige Bertrand and film student Catherine Boivin. 

The women are arranged in a stylized, Renaissance-themed portrait with a backdrop straight from a high-fashion photoshoot. Their costumes, designed by Bertrand, are an entanglement of colonial garb and Indigenous flare: The pristine white sofa, corsets and brass buttons are offset by furs, headdresses and a lacrosse stick.

“I am interested in exploring artistic movements that emerged over the centuries, particularly in Europe. As indigenous people, we were denied the right to express ourselves creatively altogether. I believe this prevented us from great artistic expression. I am curious to know what Dada looks like from an indigenous perspective, as well as Renaissance, and so on," Monnet offers of the layers of references present in the photoshoot.

Unlike the unengaged subjects of the NFB footage, these women stare directly into the camera, signalling a change in how they are represented. However, the alternating image strips also evoke a direct connection to those who came before them: "We can be the women we are today because of the generations of women who came before us. These ancestors and women are embedded in us and will continue to shape future generations," Monnet says.

The title of the piece, History Shall Speak for Itself, signifies that the once-passive subjects of the mechanical eye are now in the driver's seat, and they've got something to say. 

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