Gerald McMaster — curator, artist, author, and professor – Tier 1 Canada Research Chair of Indigenous Visual Culture and Curatorial Practice — studied fine arts at the Institute of American Indian Art and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (BFA 1977). After his MA in anthropology from Carleton University, he defended his dissertation — The New Tribe: Critical Perspectives and Practices in Aboriginal Contemporary Art — at the University of Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, Theory, and Interpretation (1999).
Dr. McMaster has over 30 years’ international expertise in contemporary art, critical theory, museology and Indigenous aesthetics. His thorough understanding of transnational Indigenous visual culture and curatorial practice comes from his experiences as an artist and curator.
His early interests concerned the display of culturally sensitive objects in ethnology museums and the lack of representation of Indigenous artists in art museums. As an artist, he offered a different way of staging hitherto decontextualized objects than Western-trained exhibition designers; his approach rested on Indigenous epistemologies. Developing an “Indigenous visuality” led him to study visual, experiential and spatial composition. His exhibition Savage Graces (1992) challenged tradition and was significant in deconstructing barriers around where art should be practiced, simultaneously demonstrating that art is not tied to ethnicity.
He advanced the intellectual landscape for Indigenous curatorship through the foundational concept of voice. He curated Indigena (1992), bringing together unfiltered Indigenous voices for the first time. Before this, non-Indigenous scholars dominated discussions of Indigenous art, history and culture. McMaster articulated that Indigenous artists were more than capable of eloquently representing themselves. He continues to refine voice, asking: How can Indigenous voices continue providing new perspectives on well-researched subjects including art, history and anthropology?
McMaster has represented Canada at many prestigious international events including the 1995 Venice Biennale as Canadian Commissioner and the 2012 Biennale of Sydney as artistic director.