These sisters are rising stars in Canadian art — and kinship is key to their success

Filmmaker Caroline Monnet and her playwright sibling Émilie discuss climbing the worlds of art and theatre together.

For Caroline and Émilie Monnet, 'trust and love' empower their collaboration

Caroline and Émilie Monnet in a photoshoot.
Caroline Monnet (left) and Émilie Monnet (right) from Caroline's photographic project Debouttes! (Photo courtesy of Caroline Monnet)

Sisters Caroline and Émilie Monnet have a lot in common, despite the seven years that separate them. Born in the Ottawa region and raised on the Quebec side, they often went camping and canoeing together, sharing a passion for the outdoors in their youth. "Nature makes you creative, you never get bored of it," Émilie says. "It expanded our imagination." Being out on the land with each other taught them early on the importance of working together.

Today, the sisters are two of the brightest talents in Canadian art. Caroline is a filmmaker and visual artist who was nominated for a Sobey Art Award in 2020. Since then, she has collected accolades for projects ranging from solo exhibitions to mesmerizing murals, and in 2023, she was awarded a prestigious fellowship at the Sundance Institute. Émilie is a renowned theatre director and playwright, who came to her craft after working for a non-profit organization advocating for the rights of Indigenous women. Like her sister, she too has received major recognition for her work, including a nomination for a Governor General's Literary Award. Below the surface of their individual successes, however, the Monnet sisters are bolstered by their unique relationship. It is their kinship, their collaborative spirit and a mutual sentiment of support and unconditional love, they say, that helps both of them to flourish.

Thanks to their mother, who is a member of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, and their French father, both of whom loved to travel and remodel homes, the sisters grew up between places — most notably, the green Outaouais forests of western Quebec and the grey, moody Atlantic coast of Brittany, France. But friends and family visited often, creating a sense of community.

"My mom was always cooking," Émilie remembers fondly. "Food was always a very important part of our upbringing — sharing meals especially."

"I think it's one of the foundations of why we became artists," Caroline responds.

These early years served to forge their bond as collaborators. Émilie recounts their first creative endeavors: "I had the chance of having a little sister who is almost seven years younger than me. I would dress her up, invent plays. She was my first muse. She would follow me everywhere." 

With a smile, Caroline confirms: "I would say 'yes' to everything!"

Two young sisters, Caroline and Émilie Monnet, sitting at the beach.
(Photo courtesy of Caroline Monnet)

As young adults, both forged their own ways towards a professional career in the arts. "A thing we have in common is that we're not traditionally trained," Émilie says. "We both made our own paths, we're both self-taught."

But from the very beginning, they've also been collaborators. "She was part of my first film, and I was part of her very first theatre play," Caroline says. This first film was 2009's Ikwé, a short that interweaves the inner thoughts of a woman — played by Émilie — with the teachings of her grandmother and the Moon. "We were spending Christmas with family in Brittany, and I was making my first short film," Caroline says. "I was filming, and then I decided to film my sister. She was right there."

For Émilie, these early exchanges provided strength and certainty at the beginning of her own career. "In 2013, I was just starting in the arts," she says. "Having someone you know well gives you a foundation, a stability, a pillar who can support you." 

Over the last 10 years, the sisters have collaborated on each other's projects 12 times, with Caroline making videos, costumes and set designs for Émilie's productions, and Émilie in turn posing or performing for Caroline's camera on numerous occasions.

Remarking on the evolution of this kinship, Caroline notes that trust and love are at its root. "Through the years and projects we've understood how to work with each other, and how to respect each other as complete collaborators," she says. "One of the things I really appreciate about working with my sister is all the extra time we can digest. I know my sister so well that often we don't have to beat around the bush. We can go right to where it matters."

This mutual sense of care has supported their common desire to speak to their Indigenous heritage as Anishinaabe women. In Émilie's Okinum — an immersive trilingual theatre experience (using French, Anishinaabemowin and English) in which a giant beaver appears in a dream as a guide — Caroline's contributions as the costume designer played an integral part in the overall worldbuilding. Embroidered with Anishinaabemowin words, the stunning black outfit Émilie wore for each performance emphasised their unique bond as sisters and collaborators.

An actor on stage of Émilie Monnet’s Okinum.
(Photo by Yanick MacDonald Photographe)

"The trust and feeling when I did Okinum — it's such an intimate piece," Émilie confides. "To have Caroline design my costume and put words on my throat and on my chest, that made so much sense for the both of us. It gave me power. When I wore that costume, it really made me feel grounded in my identity. No one would have been able to see that except for her."

The collaborative spirit that Émilie and Caroline share has extended beyond their familial bond, fostering a community of local Indigenous women who support each other in their work. "I'm the artist in residence at [Théâtre] Espace Go right now," Émilie says. "This is a wonderful platform where I have access to resources, and I wanted to share that privilege with other Indigenous women artists. And then I think of Caroline, about all the projects she's done photographing Indigenous women that are portrayed in a very exuberant, proud and festive way. That's part of our collaboration, uplifting other women in our community."

Émilie is referencing pieces by Caroline like Creatura Dada or History shall speak for itself, which are ensemble artworks that bring together Indigenous women who are peers or who have paved the way, including filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin and the visual artist Nadia Myre

A group of women from Caroline Monnet's Creatura Dada.
(Photo courtesy of Caroline Monnet)

"I also feel a deep sense of responsibility with the work we do and the platforms we're given," Caroline echoes. "We don't take that for granted. The message we want to give is one of resilience and taking space — a space our mother was not allowed to have as an Indigenous woman. We also want to bring positive change, break preconceptions and stereotypes."

With even more collaborative projects on the horizon, and through the strength of their familial and community bonds, Caroline and Émilie continue to grow together. In a cutthroat cultural industry where rivalry often pits artists against each other instead of uniting them, their compassion and championing of one another feels critical — radical even. 

"The Anishinaabe philosophy of kinship and sisterhood is important and has allowed me to celebrate my sister without competition," Caroline says. "If she goes up, we all go up."

Émilie Monnet will be presenting Nigamon/Tunai with Colombian Inga artist Waira Nina at Espace Go in partnership with the Festival TransAmériques on May 14. Caroline Monnet is currently showing Pizandawatc / The One Who Listens / Celui qui écoute, at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto through March 23.


Didier Morelli is a Fonds de recherche du Québec (FRQSC) Postdoctoral Fellow in the department of Art History at Concordia University in Montreal. He holds a PhD in Performance Studies from Northwestern University (Chicago, Illinois). Associate editor at Espace art actuel, his work has also been published in Art Journal, Canadian Theatre Review, C Magazine, Esse Arts + Opinions, Frieze, Spirale, and TDR: The Drama Review.

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