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Art Performance

Unbecoming Nationalism

From Commemoration to Redress in Canada

by (author) Helene Vosters

University of Manitoba Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2019
Performance, Nationalism, Museum Studies
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2019
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2019
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  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2019
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Canada’s recent sesquicentennial celebrations were the latest in a long, steady progression of Canadian cultural memory projects. Unbecoming Nationalism investigates the power of commemorative performances in the production of nationalist narratives. Using “unbecoming” as a theoretical framework to unsettle or decolonize nationalist narratives, Helene Vosters examines an eclectic range of both state-sponsored social memory projects and counter-memorial projects to reveal and unravel the threads connecting reverential military commemoration, celebratory cultural nationalism, and white settler-colonial nationalism.

Vosters brings readings of institutional, aesthetic, and activist performances of Canadian military commemoration, settler-colonial nationalism, and redress into conversation with literature that examines the relationship between memory, violence, and nationalism from the disciplinary arenas of performance studies, Canadian studies, critical race and Indigenous studies, memory studies, and queer and gender studies. In addition to using performance as a theoretical framework, Vosters uses performance to enact a philosophy of praxis and embodied theory.

About the author

Helene Vosters is an artist-activist-scholar. She holds a PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies from York University, an MFA in Queer and Activist Performance from the New College of California, and is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow and Project Coordinator with Transforming Stories, Driving Change, a research and performance initiative at McMaster University.

Helene Vosters' profile page


  • Winner, Ann Saddlemyer Award, The Canadian Association for Theatre Research

Editorial Reviews

Unbecoming Nationalism critiques the ways in which Canadian military history is commemorated and celebrated as a way to establish favourable national mythologies and to silence uncomfortable truths about our past and our present. It also takes on narratives around white settler-colonialism and asserts that Canadians are less inclined to take responsibility for this national reality and asks what real redress would mean.”

Queen’s University

"By investigating the role that government-funded museums, cultural depictions and memorializations of the military, and the Canadian sesquicentennial celebrations in 2017 play in the inculcation of civic, militarized, and settler-colonial nationalisms, Vosters challenges Canadians to both reflect and act upon the constructed narratives upon which their nation was built. […] At a time when the interrelationship between commemoration, history, and nationalism are at the forefront of many people’s minds, Vosters offers an important exploration of these vital themes. Well-written and passionately argued, Unbecoming Nationalism provides both scholars and the general public with an engaging, forceful study of the power and mutability of nationalism."

American Review of Canadian Studies

“Examines how performance-based genres expose the myths of Canadian innocence and peaceful settlement. Committed to truth-telling, it strives to decolonize Eurocentric binaries between public and private, mind and body, theory and practice, and research and activism.”

Canadian Literature

"Vosters book challenges the status quo, highlights contemporary performances and sites of performance that offer a counter-narrative to the official performed narrative, furthers recent explorations of architecture as performance, but most importantly challenges, no, insists, that we all do better.”

The Canadian Association for Theatre Research

"Using examples from the Canadian War Museum, the Human Rights Museum, the Highway of Heroes, and the celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, Vosters challenges the existing definitions and inclusion/exclusion of Canadian memories and memorials."


"As its enigmatic title proclaims, Vosters’s monograph sets out to problematize all facets of the propaganda that buttress our notions of 'white Canadian settler-colonial nationalism' ... As a performer-activist-researcher, she wants us to participate in unravelling the deadly historic injustices committed against the Indigenous populations that continue to be glossed over in the official versions promoted in the celebrations connected to Canada 150 in 2017."

Rosalind Kerr, University of Alberta