“Omote” by Artist Miya Turnbull

Miya Turnbull is a multi-disciplinary artist and mask-maker based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She known for using a photo-mask technique to create life-like self-portrait representations that are often distorted or manipulated in various ways. She has also started experimenting with video and live performances, in collaboration with Vancouver-based dancer Shion Skye Carter.

Her new photo book, “Omote (面),” is a collaborative project with Shion Skye Carter and Montréal-based photographer Nanne Springer. These photos of Shion and Miya were captured by Nanne in April 2023 at the 206 Studio and Arts Hub, located in Montréal, Québec, during the premiere of their live performance of “Omote (面)”, co-presented by CanAsian Dance Festival, Tangente and Festival Accès Asie, and supported by the Canada Council for the Arts.

Miya Turnbull was selected as one of the winners of our 2023 Art & Photo Book Awards! With support from Bookmobile, we helped Miya turn her project into a book! If you want the opportunity to publish a book of your own work, you can apply for our 2024 Art & Photo Book Awards here.

See more from “Omote (面)” below along with our interview with Miya!

Booooooom: What got you interested in making art in the first place?

Miya Turnbull: I’ve always wanted to be an artist ever since I was really young. My parents really encouraged art-making and creativity so I was lucky that it was nurtured in our family. I was also really blessed to have an incredible art teacher in high school — that made all the difference in my explorations and confidence to keep going with it.

What drives or inspires you to continue to make work now?

I’ve seen how interested people are in my work which is validating, but more importantly, I like the challenge of making new variations with my masks and new ways to present my masks in terms of portraiture and performances. One new mask will inspire the next — it’s very exciting!

Share a challenging moment you’ve experienced in your artistic journey.

I found it extremely challenging to keep at my practice once I had a baby — I didn’t have the capacity as I also wanted to be fully present as a mother. I thought I was done with my art career but everything changed 10 years later with an invitation to show my masks at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre Gallery in Toronto. It was such a massive space that I really needed to make new work to fit the space, which got me back in the studio full time again. Now I have that momentum to keep going which has led to incredible opportunities over the past several years and I’m so grateful.

Can you speak a bit about the body of work you chose to submit — why this series? Why these images? What was your thought process or selection process like?

This was such an amazing collaboration. I was working with Shion Skye Carter, a dance artist from Vancouver, to create a live performance with my masks which was all completely new to me. While we were in Montreal last year to perform, we knew we wanted to document our project together and Shion knew of Nanne Springer’s photography from another dance artist. We met with Nanne and the 3 of us had so much fun taking these portraits with the masks. Nanne shot everything on film and as soon as I saw the results, I thought they were so beautiful as a series and right away I could envision them compiled together in a book since I wanted to print them all out. The dream came true thanks to this Art & Photo Book award! The selection process was just really about picking my favourite images and how they could fit together to create somewhat of a narrative.

As someone who works in a lot of different mediums (painting, photography, textiles, video, animation, projection, performance) can you share how you first discovered the Photo-Mask technique and the role it’s played in your development as an artist?

I started making these photo-masks over 20 years during an independent studio while I was doing my BFA at the University of Lethbridge. I felt like it was a culmination of so many different things I was interested in at the time — photography, sculpture, anthropology, psychology, etc, and it really came together organically during the physical process of mask-making/papier-mâché. Since then I’ve really developed it, focussing on making Self-Portraits which has led to so many variations, not only in each mask, but in different ways to layer and wear the masks. I keep growing as an artist as my work expands and now includes performances which I never in a million years thought I would do! This practice keeps challenging me which I really appreciate.

How does it feel to see your work in book form?

I love that Omote (面) lives on in so many different iterations. Shion and I have a short film that’s made rounds through several film festivals and accompanied several of my exhibits with my masks. We also have a 20 min version of our live performance, and we will be working together again this upcoming fall and spring to expand it to a full length piece which we are presenting in Vancouver in 2025. And then to have this book as another form of the project and as something tangible, is really so exciting and wonderful.

What is a goal you’ve set for yourself that you haven’t achieved yet?

One thing I have always dreamed of doing is to travel to Japan which is where my mom’s side of the family is originally from, to connect more with the culture and to learn more about different artistic practices. I hope to experience Japanese Noh theatre and mask-making firsthand. I also hope to do various art residencies and collaborations around the world but this will be in a later phase of my life when my daughter is older.

If you had to give one piece of advice or words of encouragement to someone just starting out, what would that be?

I would suggest to just make art for yourself and to not give up. Keep exploring and playing and not to worry about the outcomes. I would encourage collaborations and discussions with other artists and to not limit yourself to one medium. Learn new skills and try everything that interests you — inspiration will come out of that process and guaranteed if you make art that comes from within, it’ll no doubt be interesting and resonate with other people.

Call to Submit: Art & Photo Book Award

If you have a specific series or a cohesive selection of work that you want to turn into a book, we want to see it!

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