As the new artist in residence at Ottawa’s Diefenbunker Museum, Mairi Brascoupé is blending Cold War-era maps and beadwork to explore the idea of “place” during times of change.
Brascoupé, a member of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, wants to weave her own story by exploring the differences between cultures of Indigenous people and settlers.
She plans to use waterways and traplines in contrast with fallout zones, evacuation plans, and other details of the museum’s maps.
“I mean, [we] sort of have a relationship with maps,” Brascoupé told Ottawa Morning on Wednesday.
“And a lot of the time they’re showing borders and ownership. We have sort of a different relationship to the borders, especially being Algonquin. We don’t see that border between Ontario, Quebec.”
The Diefenbunker Museum was built between 1959 and 1961 “to protect key Canadian officials in the event of a nuclear war” before being converted to a museum.
While exploring its maps, Brascoupé noticed how little natural geography was on them. Instead, they primarily detailed escape routes on roads and the location of nearby power stations.
As the museum’s first Indigenous artist in residence, Brascoupé hopes to provide a new perspective on these relics from the last century.
“Reframing the relationship that we have with maps and our understanding of place is something that I’m super interested in, and people should start, you know, looking at maps and maybe scrutinizing [them] a bit,” she said. “And seeing what isn’t there, what isn’t being told through these maps.”
She hopes other institutions will follow the Diefenbunker’s lead and bring on Indigenous artists to help re-contextualize some of their exhibits.
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Brascoupé said beadwork, not unlike cartography, is a way to preserve key moments in history and tell stories.
With the Diefenbunker having large floor maps never before unfurled, the artist saw an opportunity to blend the mediums.
“It was a really good traditional art form, but also a contemporary art form that helps sort of give a visual indicator of what we might find important from an Indigenous perspective,” she said.