Meagan Musseau

Meagan Musseau, Intergalactic L’nu Baskets, 2017-ongoing, Vinyl and flagging tape.

Courtesy of the Artist.

Meagan Musseau, nukumi, will you sit with me as I learn to weave?, 2018, Vinyl and flagging tape, 20.5 x15.5 x 15.5 cm.

Collection of the Indigenous Art Centre (INAC) at Crown-Indigenous Relations andNorthern Affairs Canada. Courtesy of the artist and INAC.

Meagan Musseau, time travellers, 2017, Vinyl, flagging tape, and sweetgrass, 11 x 17 x 17 cm.
Courtesy of the Artist.

Meagan Musseau, alanguage embedded in our hands, 2018, Vinyl, flagging tape, and a piece of red cloth. 33.5 x 16 x 16 cm.
Courtesy of the Artist.

Meagan Musseau’s series Intergalactic L’nu Baskets (2018-ongoing) combines forms of Mi’kmaq fancy basketry with contemporary synthetic materials. Seeking to learn her cultural practices but unsure of how to access the traditional materials of ash wood and sweetgrass, Musseau began to source synthetic materials as a form of adaptation and as a way to raise questions about the availability of natural materials.

 

Today, the Mi’kmaq people of Elmastukwek, Ktaqmkuk territory (Bay of Islands, Newfoundland), no longer have unrestricted access to their unceded ancestral lands, and environmental degradation is impacting the health and abundance of the plants used in basketry. By using synthetic materials as a placeholder, but still processing them according to customary harvesting and preparation techniques, Musseau was able to continue her weaving training and to spend time on the land. For instance, the flagging tape used as a decorative element around the top of one of the baskets was taken onto the land by Musseau and braided during an embodied, durational, land-based action. For the artist, material adaptation is a refusal to allow colonial policies to block the transmission of cultural practices.

The use of brightly coloured plastics creates a futuristic aesthetic intended to be enticing and surprising, yet these materials are also a reminder that customary practices are malleable and evolving. Just as previous generations absorbed glass beads, ribbons, and other mass-produced materials into Indigenous art forms, contemporary Indigenous artists are similarly appropriating plastics in thought-provoking ways, signalling the inherent flexibility of so-called traditional practices and the ingenuity of makers throughout time. The balance of tradition and futurity eloquently articulated by these works is emphasized in the series’ title, Intergalactic L’nu Baskets. With this phrase, Musseau conjures the image of ancestor artists—residents of the stars—communicating through the muscle memory of her own body and hands. This story resonates with writer Lou Cornum’s description of the “space NDN.” They write: “The Indian in space does not abandon their home, their people, or their teachings. Dynamic traditions, themselves a type of advanced technology, help the space NDN to understand how to foster the kind of relationships that make futures possible.” [1] By creating baskets that will live on into the future, Musseau contributes to the living traditions of Mi’kmaq material culture.

Meagan Musseau speaking in Mi’kmaq: Kwe' teluisi Meagan Musseau, ni'n na L'nu. Wetapeksi Elmastukwek aq Ktaqmkuk.

Hello, my name is Megan Musseau, I'm a Mi’kmaw from Ktaqmkuk and the region of Ktaqmkuk that I'm from is Elmastukwek. Elmastukwek is also known as the Bay of Islands, and Ktaqmkuk is also known as Newfoundland. And this is one of the main districts of Mi’kma’ki in what is now known also as Atlantic Canada.

My practice is made up of a lot of different mediums but I like to explore notions of memory, land transference, familial history, and larger kinship networks in relationship to the environment through practicing customary art forms such as Mi’kmaq basketry. For the exhibition Shimmering Horizons, I'm including my basket series called Intergalactic L’nu Baskets and these baskets are all made with synthetic materials such as vinyl tape, plastic, neon flagging tape. It's all stripped down, so the materials goes through its own kind of processing, and I use a gauge—and a gauge is one of the tools that we also use for stripping ash—but instead of stripping the ash, I'm actually stripping vinyl tape that's been adhered to a large sheet of acetate. Then the strips are stripped down into these kind of vinyl ‘splits’. We would say, you know, “split ash basketry”, I call this “split vinyl basketry”. And these splits are woven into baskets.

This is one of the basket forms using all black vinyl, and around here on the top, just above the jikiji’j is braided flagging tape. Normally we would use sweet grass as a decorative element within the basket, but I wanted to push the conversation around access to resources, access to traditional and customary medicines, and the larger realities of what's happening within the environment. Like, what happens if we cannot access wood, sweet grass, etc.? How do we continue our basket making? You know, we're unceded and unsurrendered territory here in Mi’kma’ki and I see high, high volumes of industry. So I wanted to blend what I was seeing in my environment with… as a young Mi’kmaw woman trying to learn and continue customary art practices such as basketry. Because that's very much rooted in a sense of pride. And also, it links into the larger systems of economy. And that's the research that I'm really, really interested in.

So, I started to use a vinyl flagging tape and I actually brought the flagging tape onto the land—long strands of flagging tape—and did a durational performance where I braided the flagging tape for about an hour and a half. And so that performance, that bringing these synthetic materials onto the land and pushing my body, in a way of this kind of harvesting, but also this disconnection, and also a resistance and a resiliency in terms of an adaptation. To push my body in that way to still harvest this flagging tape. It’s almost like it’s kind of a contradiction but I wanted to have that kind of conversation.

There's lots of different basket forms. The form that I explore is fancy baskets and a main detail of fancy baskets is actually this jikiji’j. And a jikiji’j is like a shell or a periwinkle and so it's something from the environment that has been transformed into a decorative element of the basket. On the top, you know, we would have sweet grass around the top, but for me within the story that I'm trying to tell with this basket it’s neon orange flagging tape. And this neon orange flagging tape relates to the performance I was speaking about, which is called When They Poison The Bogs, We Will Still Braid Sweet Grass. So, this basket came right from that performance, that land-based endurance performance. And then, you know, we can kind of see on the inside here. I used a kind of a tape that had both black and white design on it so I find the basket almost looks like a code, like, it looks like one of those photo codes that you can (makes a gesture like scanning a QR code with a cell phone). But yeah, so this is one of my favorite baskets actually, because it's very futuristic. And it was also very much rooted in me working with the material to activate a muscle memory in my hands, and then deeper down into a genetic memory. So that's why I call these baskets the Intergalactic L’nu Baskets because in my narrative, and in the story that I'm trying to tell, it was about the ancestors coming down from the stars and showing us our ways of weaving and ways of making with these new and synthetic and kind of weird materials like, “what can we what can we create?” Yeah, I guess that's the story that I was trying to play out through creating these works.

I actually really think about the hands and the hands as being a vessel for time to travel through. It’s very much rooted in the past and what you do with your hands moves into the future, and all of that is intertwined and woven: interwoven. I think of the basket as a vessel that encompasses the past, the present and the future. And I've been really inspired by seeing any archival photos of basket makers, ones from long time ago into present day, and I like to look at images and be inspired by the hands that have woven these baskets that will continue into the future after they are gone. I think about, Okay, if I'm weaving baskets, and they're going into these other places, and there might be photos taken or whatever, these are the things that you leave behind, the work that the hands do is this… Yeah, we're time travelers!

And another thing I've been thinking a lot about is—as a maker—making sure my name is a part of the basketry, especially as it goes into the collection, and where this basket was made, and who made it; whose hands wove these materials. I think that's so important because, in a lot of museum collections it's, you know, “maker unknown” or all this different language that's used to actually kind of dehumanize in some ways. So, I really want to, through my baskets, continue weaving but also be sure that like, “this is where they're woven, and this is the person wove these materials and this is their family”. And that's a form of reclamation and also resistance to the larger colonial narratives that have taken shape, and that have really formed a large part of our history, but not all of our history.

So, it's definitely a collaboration with materials but also a collaboration with how the materials are gathered. I don't go out in the woods by myself, you know, I've got a friend or a cousin who comes in with me, right? That act of going out on the land and being with someone or being with community on the land: that's so important. And that might not come through fully in the finished artwork, but that's very much integral to the process. So yes, it is a collaboration of myself with the materials and then, anytime that it’s possible, it's a collaboration with a friend or family member to both learn and transfer knowledge. And also time to get to spend with one another! I think that's really important.