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The Power of a Portrait

People have created portraits for thousands of years, using a variety of mediums. Portraits can be like windows looking to a captured moment in time.

Taking a moment to pause and be with the image of another person can be a powerful experience. To create a portrait of a person can help you notice things that you did not notice about that person previously and lead to moments of reflection. Portraits can provide insights to identity and connection to culture.

⁠Meryl McMaster creates powerful portraits that connect with her culture’s history as well as her own personal identity. Her portrait series in Born in Power are both portraits of ancestors and self-portraits, for the images are projected on Meryl McMaster’s face, combining McMaster’s self with that of her archival ancestors. Past and present merge as one.

  • Two transparency sheets
  • Permanent markers
  • White piece of paper
  • Mirror
  • Photograph of someone you are close with, such as a family member or friend
  • Put a transparency sheet on a blank piece of paper to help you see what you are going to draw on the transparency sheet
  • Looking into the mirror, study your face. Notice the shape of your nose, your eyes, your mouth.
  • Using a permanent marker, begin to draw a self-portrait of yourself on the transparency sheet. Take your time, add little details that you notice about yourself.
  • Put the self-portrait to the side and put the second transparency sheet over the blank paper.
  • Look at the photograph of your family member or friend. Study the details of their face.
  • Draw a portrait of the family member or friend on the second transparency sheet. Try as best as you can to make the features about the same size as those in your self-portrait.
  • Once both drawings are complete, layer the two transparency sheets. It is alright if they do not line up perfectly.
  • Put tape on the edges of the two transparency sheets and the paper to hold them all together.
  • What do you notice about your artwork?
  • What insights does this give you about who you are?
  • What insights does this give you about the person that you drew?
  • How does it make you feel to have the image of your face combined with another person who you are close with?

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WAG-Qaumajuq recognizes that land acknowledgements are part of an ongoing dialogue with Indigenous Nations, and we are grateful to live and work on these lands and waters. Institutionally, WAG-Qaumajuq is committed to acknowledging our colonial history and we are actively working to interrogate the Gallery’s colonial ways of being.

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Winnipeg Art Gallery—Qaumajuq
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