With her debut mural, Caroline Monnet is 'tattooing' Anishinaabe design on Montreal

The Montreal-based multidisciplinary artist's first mural is an opportunity to remind people that "Anishinaabe were part of creating Mooniyang, meaning the City of Montreal."

The medium-crossing artist is doing her first mural as part of ongoing MURAL Festival

Veteran multidisciplinary artist Caroline Monnet is moving into murals as part of this year's MURAL Festival in Montreal. (Courtesy of Winnipeg Film Group)

To say Montreal-based Caroline Monnet is a multidisciplinary artist is to almost undersell her. She's worked in sculpture, painting, installation pieces and short films. But one thing she hasn't done is paint a mural.

Until now. Monnet is painting her first mural along Montreal's Boul. Saint-Laurent as part of this year's MURAL Festival.

Monnet is of Anishinaabe and French heritage — her mother is from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation — and her work draws heavily on traditional Anishinaabe geometric design. She says that by putting those designs in a public place where everyone can see them, she's reminding Montreal that Indigenous people were there before the city was founded, and are still there today. As she emphasizes to CBC Arts: "We should have more Indigenous artists taking up urban space."

Who are you and what do you do?

I do my best, I think, in life. But I'm a visual artist and filmmaker. I do all kinds of different projects, going from sculpture to painting to installations to filmmaking. And I work really hard overall.

That's a lot of different things. That's a lot of different kinds of artist. You seem to sort of have a hand in everything. How did that come to be?

I really admire people that can become masters at their craft. It doesn't seem to be my case. I like to touch on different mediums and explore different art forms. I'm really the type of person that thinks that the message or the concept dictates the medium that I choose, and that's why I like to explore various ways of expressions. There's some stuff that is just better expressed with sculpture than it is with moving images, and that's how I approach every single project: [finding] the best way to tell what I'm trying to say and the narrative I'm trying to express. And it just keeps me on my toes and keeps me curious. 

And now you're doing murals. This is your first mural, correct?

This will be my first time doing a mural, yes. For me, it's not so far-fetched. It's not so surprising to be doing a mural. I feel I've always wanted to do a mural. I've done painting in the past and I've done video projections on buildings, so it's just kind of the natural succession of events. To be able to occupy public space with my designs and my artwork feels right. It's just a way to transpose it to a bigger form or a bigger space.

So you said different mediums lend themselves to different stories. So tell me a bit about the story you're telling and why it lends itself to mural.

Well, this mural is about bringing Anishinaabe designs into the public space, recognizing that Anishinaabe were part of creating Mooniyang, meaning the City of Montreal. That we were very much there before the city was built, we participated in building this society and this cityscape, and to not forget our presence.

My designs, to have them tattooed onto a concrete building feels very compelling and is about taking space for the Anishinaabe people. I'm very proud to be given this platform and this opportunity to make this piece happen. The artwork I'm doing is about the fragmentation and the dividing of the land, how it was used to create the city, to cut down trees to make room for agriculture and room for other nations to occupy the territory. So it's really a piece about communication and exchange and dividing of resources.

How long was this percolating in your head before you got the opportunity to put it on a wall?

I feel this is an ongoing thought process and it's an ongoing practice. I've been working with these designs for the past maybe three years and it's become my own language. It's something that I do on an everyday basis. I've been really exploring the idea of land and how we occupy land, how we inhabit, how the environment affects us and how we affect the environment. This is like an ongoing issue. It's like doing this mural  — it's just the accomplishment of years of thought, process and practice. 

How did your experience working in other media help you in transitioning to this medium?

We're just starting tonight, so I'll see how that process works. I've never worked [with] large-scale that way. I've worked large-scale in the past, but only as video projection, and that's quite easy technically, right? Doing the painting on the wall is much more complicated, especially with the designs that I do that are kind of very hard-edged, super strict on geometry and strict lines. It's very meticulous, it's very sharp. So we'll see how that translates onto a large format.

What do you want people to take away from this once it's completed?

I hope people understand that Indigenous communities are very part of the society, that we've been here for time immemorial, that we've helped build our cities and the society that we live in, and we're very much present, and that should be recognized. To be offered a full wall to express that traditional expression for me is.... it's not just a privilege. It's a long time coming.

MURAL Festival runs from June 9-19.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Chris Dart

Web Writer

Chris Dart is a writer, editor, jiu-jitsu enthusiast, transit nerd, comic book lover, and some other stuff from Scarborough, Ont. In addition to CBC, he's had bylines in The Globe and Mail, Vice, The AV Club, the National Post, Atlas Obscura, Toronto Life, Canadian Grocer, and more.

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