Arts

'We'll always be present': How Caroline Monnet's art explores her European-native heritage

The daughter of an Algonquin mother and a French-born father, artist and filmmaker Caroline Monnet makes work that she says is a “big hybrid between European and Native,” encompassing influences that range from native bead work to European cinema.

"You can to try to hide us, but our culture is set in stone and we'll always be present."

Step inside Caroline's studio in episode five of The Re-Education of Eddy Rogo, a new digital original series from CBC Arts.

Name: Caroline Monnet
Born: Ottawa, 1985
Lives and works: Montreal

Her work: The daughter of an Algonquin mother and a French-born father, artist and filmmaker Caroline Monnet makes sculptures, paintings, installations and films that she describes as a "big hybrid between European and Native," encompassing influences that range from native bead work to European cinema.

Caroline Monnet's abstract teepees and scarred concrete cubes

The Re-Education of Eddy Rogo

6 years ago
4:19
Caroline Monnet is a self-taught artist who uses sculpture, painting and installation to address her French and Algonquin heritage. 4:19

A filmmaker first: While she has been moving between the film and visual art worlds for a number of years — making short films, multimedia installations and silk screening — Monnet says she didn't really consider herself a "professional visual artist" until she got a seven week artist residency at Arsenal Montreal in 2014, when necessity made her discover a surprising new love: concrete. "I had to produce a new piece every week for the seven weeks, and I didn't think that doing video would be possible," she says. "It's very labour intensive, making video. So I started experimenting with materials, and that was how I came across concrete."

The result: a series of concrete cubes with bits of clothing — First Nations beadwork, a traditional deerskin jacket — embedded in it, peeking out from the edges.

Concrete reminders: Monnet's cubes were inspired by her move to Montreal from Winnipeg, where she lived for several years, and which is home to one of the largest urban populations of indigenous people in the country. "After spending five years in the prairies, in Winnipeg, I was really amazed by the lack of indigenous presence in Montreal, how almost invisible it was in the urban landscape," she says. "Working with concrete and embedding clothing and objects in the concrete, it was a way of saying 'You can to try to hide us, but our culture is set in stone and we'll always be present.'"

Refusing to be static: Monnet's Modern Tipi series features designs based on both the teepee tents of indigenous people of the Plains nations and traditional beadwork. These are rendered, however, in vibrant, neon colours. "My heritage is important to me and I like to integrate it in my artwork, but I want to do it in a way that is not so literal, so doing it through contemporary art is a way to show that we're not stagnant, and that there are other ways to see the culture," she says. "I'm just expressing what I am in the art work…. I just want the artwork itself to have some kind of message, and for people to have a dialogue about it and a certain emotion."

What's next: Monnet recently presented a short film at the ImagineNATIVE film festival in Toronto (see a still from that film in the CBC Arts Viewfinder series), and is developing a feature film script entitled Bootlegger.

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