acrylic and graphite on unstretched canvas, 72 x 98.5 in (183 x 250.2 cm)
Estimate: $8,000 — $12,000
"Objects of Bright Pride" benefit auction for the Bill Reid Foundation and Bill Reid Centre for Northwest Coast Art Studies at Simon Fraser University, Oct. 2005;
Purchased from the above by Dr. George and Mrs. Joanne MacDonald;
Estate of Dr. George MacDonald.
One of the last works from McMaster's active period as a painter, Crossfire of Identity is intended to engage the viewer — both Native and non-Native — in a conversation on the legacy of colonial relations, highlighting competing markers for what constitutes authentic Indigenous identity in a modern and increasingly urban world. With definite urgency it asks both Native and non-Native viewers to come together to confront and dismantle racist Indigenous stereotypes ingrained in popular culture and challenge their commercial commodification. Such damaging stereotypes, fraught with expectations and limitations, are frequently internalized by Indigenous peoples themselves, complicating the formation of healthy personal identities and healthy interpersonal relationships. Here, McMaster presents a potent collage of visual and textual symbols, skillfully interweaving traditional and pop culture references, each possessing its own complex history: from images of clan totems, beadwork patterns and even Tonto(!), to an itemized list of sacred celebrations, cultural art forms, historical figures (such as Sitting Bull, Edward Curtis), and a still controversial definition of who is entitled to call themselves an Indian. In this context, seemingly benign images can be unpacked to reveal less benign inference: (i.e. apple = "Apple Indian": red on the outside, white on the inside; or banana: yellow [Asian] on the outside, white on the inside). The words "Ledger bytes" too provide a pithy commentary, referencing both 19th century ledger book drawings of traditional Plains Indian life by Indigenous artists held in captivity, and the ever-encroaching influence of Western computer technology and language. At the same time, "Ledger Bytes" speaks to the ability of Indigenous peoples to adapt to changing circumstances and still thrive. (Leger Bytes = survivance.) Yet, implicit in the word "crossfire" in the title is the notion of (historical and continuing) violence, tension, anxiety and uneasiness as the conversation on Indigenous identity continues to play out on an often unequal playing field. This painting is an early post-Oka view that anticipated the recommendations of the reports of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Today, the painting asks viewers to consider how much has changed, what remains to be done, and what role they might play in affecting meaningful change.
— Dr. Allan J. Ryan, New Sun Chair in Aboriginal Art and Culture, Carleton University, May 2020
As both curator and visual artist, Gerald McMaster is one of the foundational figures that opened the doors for contemporary Indigenous artists in Canada, the US and around the globe. McMaster is educated as both an artist and curator. While many of his Indigenous artist colleagues created critical works in the 1980s and 1990s that are angry and serious, McMaster's explorations of the same politicized themes of contemporary Indigenous identity, historical experience, and the impact of colonialism were decidedly more playful and ironic, brimming with a cerebral and layered aesthetic trickery. Works from the late 1980s included his Eclectic Baseball series of paintings and mixed media sculptures, followed by The cowboy/Indian Show exhibition and catalogue from 1991, and the Crossfire of Identity exhibition of 1993. Thereafter, McMaster devoted more and more of his time to scholarly and curatorial pursuits, establishing global connections, writing incisive catalogue essays, and promoting other Indigenous artists. McMaster has held curatorial positions at the Canadian Museum of History (Civilization) and the Art Gallery of Ontario and has published widely; he now teaches at OCAD University where he holds a prestigious Canada Research Chair.