Teresa Marshall

Satire and irony find definition in the textiles and paintings of this Mik Mak woman.

Teresa Marshall was born in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada, near the Millbrook First Nation, where she currently resides. 

She was born into two different cultures. Her mother is Mi’kmaq her dad is Canadian. 

Her father’s career in the military influenced her education while summers spent with her grandmother in Millbrook established her indigenous roots. The dichotomy of living in two cultures shaped her artistic expression. 

She obtained her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1990, and she studied theatre at Dalhousie University in 1990. In 1993, she was an artist in residence at the Banff Centre for the Arts; in 1994, an artist in residence at Est-Nord-Est Centre du Sculpture in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, Quebec; and in 1998, an artist in residence at The Roundhouse in Vancouver, British Columbia. Marshall creates multi-media and installation pieces that give a voice to Canada’s Indigenous people—a voice that has been suppressed and neglected by colonization. A poet and a playwright, Marshall has travelled across Canada and the United States as a lecturer, visiting artist, and art juror. She has received project grants and awards from the Canada Council and Canadian Native Arts Foundation.

Her Work

Her works show and describe the effects of racism and neocolonialism on the First Nations people.

Coming from two different backgrounds, Marshall shows both the indigenous and non-indigenous perspectives of her community and how they are affected.

Elitekey: Photo courtesy of Joanne Hammond of The Republic of Archeology.

This piece was located at the National Gallery of Canada Land, Spirit, and Power Exhibition. For this installation, Marshall created three statues that represent the absence of communication between the Canadian Army and the Mohawk people in the year 1990. The installation includes three statues made of concrete. One of a half-raised Canadian flag that had a cut out of the maple leaf. Diagonal to it was a figure wearing traditional clothing of the Native group, representing a person of that culture but had no body parts with the clothing. Between the two sculptures was a canoe that for the Mohawks was an important symbol of hope. However, when the conflict in 1990 happened between the Mohawks and the Canadian government, that symbol of hope turned into something that was used against them. Marshall wanted to highlight the suppression the Canadian government put upon the Indigenous people and the injustices done to them. Which is why the statue of the flag shows it half raised with the missing maple leaf.

Excerpt of an interview conducted by Diana Nemiroff at Concordia University and the Center for Canadian Contemporary Canadian Art for (from the catalogue for Land, Spirit, Power, The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1992)

“Gathering. Gathering stories, fragments of stories, excerpts of text, and collecting remembrances of our past and immediate social existence. Elitekey in Micmac means ‘I fashion things,’ these are the things that I make; the things that my people, my ancestors make. Therefore, it is a story boat for me. There is a story about a somewhat attenuated hero figure, Glooscap, who, at a time of great need, was to come to the aid of the people in a great stone canoe. The properties of cement, with its limestone/shell base, made it seem like an appropriate material to construct a canoe. As I was making it, and the Oka crisis raged, the time of need seemed to be at hand. While I had originally set out to produce a vessel of hope, the tides changed, and so, too, did my intent. The canoe became an oxymoron, a crypt rather than a cradle. Borrowing from my rage and despair, the Canadian flag, void of its leaf, resulted. A female figure based on my Grandmother’s traditional clothing, cloaked in cement, became the third element of the installation. At the time of my most passionate and urgent quest to discover what of my past had been denied, Eta Joe, as she was named by an elder, came to represent that”.

Hide and Seek: The Souls You Keep Locked Away in God’s Closet

This piece is from Marshall’s exhibition Red Rising Hoods at the Cape Breton University Art Gallery. The art piece shows a church window that has nine coffins inside of it.

Once opened the coffins have red figures inside of them. The red figures represent the Mi’kmaq people, during the scalping bounties, who died for the hunting of their scalps for a sum of money. Then over the window, shutters hang and close to represent the lost memory the Canadian government has for the crime made against the First Nations people. 

Excerpt from an article by Elizabeth Patterson in the Cape Breton Post.

Nine tiny coffins open to reveal red shrouded figures, each buried within a pane of glass in a church window.

However, there are shutters on this window and they close all too easily on the memory of First Nations people who lost their lives because of scalping bounties many years ago.

“It may be long ago in the past but there have been no apologies issued for the lives lost, says artist Teresa Marshall of Millbrook. In fact, the 262-year-old scalp law remains on the books in this province even though Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada has said the proclamation is not a law in Canada and therefore is not valid but can’t be repealed in this country. The British proclamation, made before Nova Scotia was part of Canada or a province, written in 1756 and offered money for the scalps of Mi’kmaq women, children and men”.

Marshall wonders how many died because of that bounty and what happened to the bodies.

“Well, where did they put them?” Marshall asks as she adjusts the coffins. “Did they bring in the whole body or did they just bring in the scalp or just the head? Did they rape them, did they brutalize them or did they hunt them through the woods – do they throw them in the streets or throw them in the harbour, or stack them in piles? We do not know that but there has to be accountability for that, I think. This is my question – where are they?”