Identity encompasses our sense of self, as shaped by our upbringing, our experiences, our culture, the people around us, especially the ones we grew up with and then later who we choose to be around. All these things help mold who we become and continue to be. Identity is knowing who you are at the very core, and always trying to make decisions and actions based from your truth, so that you are in harmony with yourself and feel connected and in alignment.
Exploring Identity | Miya Turnbull
Miya (pronounced Mee-yah) Turnbull is an artist based in Halifax (K’jipuktuk), Nova Scotia, Canada. Through this interview we are exploring her current body of work with Self-Portrait Masks, Photography, Video and Projection Work. Her creativity has intrigued us and we want to stimulate the true sense of identity that comes out while creating these complex structures.
Priyanka : What identity means to you?
Miya : Identity is so complex, I find it really difficult to try and pinpoint exactly what it means, even though I use the word all the time. To me, it encompasses our sense of self, as shaped by our upbringing, our experiences, our culture, the people around us, especially the ones we grew up with and then later who we choose to be around. All these things help mold who we become and continue to be. Identity is knowing who you are at the very core, and always trying to make decisions and actions based from your truth, so that you are in harmony with yourself and feel connected and in alignment.
Priyanka : How your creative process has given you a better understanding of self?
Miya : My process of making self-portrait masks has helped make these thoughts about identity into something tangible, visible and wearable. I can literally attach or peel back layers upon layers of materials on my face to symbolize the complexity of identity and all the factors that go into developing our sense of self which helps me visualize it and understand it a bit better. I can completely change the way I look through my masks and try to detach somewhat from my appearance. It allows me to see myself from an outside perspective and separate myself from my own image.
With these physical shells/masks, I can embody this new face, however distorted or unrealistic it might be. I can transform myself and at the same time, witness the experience through photography and video, which is also an interesting process. I repeat this over and over with new masks to try and catch a glimpse of a piece of me in each one.
Priyanka : Tell us about your journey towards discovering the ‘second skin’ i.e. your masks? Was it something you had an instinct for?
Miya : I’ve always been really intrigued with masks and puppetry and anything unusual or strange. I started making these masks when I was in University in an independent study. It was an amalgamation of everything I was being exposed to, specifically sculpture and photography, as well as biology, anthropology and psychology classes. I was already primed with creativity growing up for which I am really grateful, and everything clicked for me very early on. Looking back at it now in my 40’s, it is quite amazing. The challenge was of course to keep it up, along with the realities of having to find work to support myself. I started developing the concepts further when I was able, to really hone in on self-portraits and the variations. Then I got swept away again when I had a baby. It was only in the past 3 years that I returned to this work full time and have dived deep in. I’m proud to say that I now have over 100 variations of masks in my collection.
Priyanka : Your ancestors belong for two different continent. Is this blend of two different culture plays any role in creating the unique and complex structures of your projects?
Miya : Yes, this was a huge influence on the direction I took with my art practise and why I focused in so much on masks as a way to explore identity. Being half-Japanese and half-Caucasian could be confusing at times. I wasn’t one or the other and was constantly asked ‘where are you from?’ as people tried to figure out why I looked different and wanted to satisfy their need to categorize me. I always felt “in-between” which comes into play a lot with my artwork. I explore that space in regards to being mixed race and that also led to an interest in examining the space between the public and private. I also like to push that line where beauty turns into the grotesque when it comes to my distortions. This is the basis for my explorations with all my masks, photos and video work. It doesn’t all have to do with exploring my cultural identity specifically but that was definitely the starting point of my research and creation.
Priyanka : Please share one thing you are grateful for today?
Miya : I am so grateful for the support of my family and friends. I grew up in such a nurturing household where I was told I could be anything I wanted to be. And no matter how weird my art gets, my parents are always rooting for me. I am so glad they are able to see the success I’ve been having with my artwork in the past couple of years. My brothers are the coolest people around and I am so lucky to have grown up with them and have them and their families in my life, even though I live far away from them. I am also grateful for the internet to keep us all connected! My friends and my Halifax family, always have my back and love me unconditionally and give me the strength to keep going.
Miya Turnbull @MiyaMask, Interviewed by Priyanka Singh @Priyanka.Parihar16
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