With her first mural, Caroline Monnet “tattoos” Anishinaabe design on Montreal

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Veteran multidisciplinary artist Caroline Monnet turns to murals as part of this year’s MURAL Festival in Montreal. (Courtesy of the Winnipeg Film Group)

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

So far. Monnet paints his first mural along Boul. Saint-Laurent as part of this year’s MURAL Festival.

Monnet is of Anishinaabe and French descent, and his work draws heavily on traditional Anishinaabe geometric design. She says that by putting these drawings in a public place where everyone can see them, she reminds Montreal that Indigenous peoples were there before the founding of the city and they are still here today. As she points out to CBC Arts, “We should have more Indigenous artists occupying the urban space.

Who are you and what are you doing?

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

It’s a lot of different things. It’s a lot of different artists. You kind of seem to have your hands on everything. How did it happen?

I really admire people who can become masters of their craft. This doesn’t seem to be my case. I enjoy touching different mediums and exploring different art forms. I’m really the type of person who thinks the message or the concept dictates the medium I choose, and that’s why I like to explore various ways of expression. There are things that express themselves better with sculpture than with moving images, and this is how I approach each project: [finding] the best way to say what I’m trying to say and the story I’m trying to tell. And it just keeps me on my toes and keeps me curious.

And now you’re doing murals. This is your first fresco, isn’t it?

It will be the first time that I do a fresco, yes. To me, it’s not that far-fetched. It’s not so surprising to make a mural. I feel like I’ve always wanted to do a fresco. I’ve done painting in the past and done video projections on buildings, so it’s just kind of a natural succession of events. Being able to occupy public space with my creations and works of art seems fair to me. It’s just a way of transposing it into a bigger shape or a bigger space.

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

Well, this mural aims to bring Anishinaabe designs into the public space, acknowledging that the Anishinaabe participated in the creation of Mooniyang, meaning the City of Montreal. That we were there long before the construction of the city, we participated in the construction of this society and this urban landscape, and so as not to forget our presence.

My designs, having them tattooed on a concrete building, are very compelling and about taking up space for the Anishinaabe people. I am very proud to have this platform and this opportunity to make this piece. The work I do talks about the fragmentation and division of the land, how it was used to create the city, to cut down trees to make room for agriculture and other nations to occupy the territory. So it’s really a piece about communication, exchange and distribution of resources.

How long was that in your head before you had the opportunity to put it on a wall?

I think it’s an ongoing thought process and it’s an ongoing practice. I’ve been working with these designs for maybe three years and it’s become my own language. It’s something I do on a daily basis. I really explored the idea of ​​land and how we occupy the land, how we inhabit, how the environment affects us, and how we affect the environment. It’s like a permanent problem. It’s like doing this mural – it’s just the culmination of years of thought, process and practice.

How has your experience working in other media helped you transition to this medium?

We’re just getting started tonight, so I’ll see how this process works. I have never worked [with] on a large scale this way. I’ve worked on a large scale in the past, but only in video projection, and it’s pretty easy technically, right? Doing the painting on the wall is much more complicated, especially with the drawings I do which are a bit very hard, super strict on geometry and strict lines. It’s very meticulous, it’s very sharp. We will therefore see how this translates to a large format.

What do you want people to take away from it when it’s finished?

I hope people understand that indigenous communities are an integral part of society, that we have been here since time immemorial, that we have helped build our cities and the society in which we live, and that we are very present, and that should be recognized. To be given an entire wall to express this traditional expression for me is… it’s not just a privilege. It’s a long time coming.

The MURAL festival runs from June 9-19.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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