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Witnessing the monumental

 

Rebecca Belmore Facing the Monumental is an exhibition hosted at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and curated by Wanda Nanibush, Curator for Indigenous Art. Torontonians have until October 21, 2018 to check it out and browse over 20 pieces, among them sculptures, installations, photographs, and performance-based works: a window for works exhibited in the past as well as new ones by the artist.

Rebecca Belmore is recognized as one of the most remarkable contemporary Canadian artists. Her recurring themes are women’s lives, violence against Indigenous people, remembering the forgotten, speaking the truth, water, land rights, and homelessness. As a contemporary artist, she has positioned herself as a custodian of a truth to be narrated, never to be forgotten or silenced. Rebecca states, “For decades I have been working as the artist amongst my people calling to the past witnessing the present standing forward facing the monumental.”

Rebecca, a member of the Anishinaabe, has reached international recognition through multidisciplinary artistic expression: sculpture, installation, photography, and video.  An artist rooted within the Indigenous communities and established within the Canadian artistic landscape, Belmore’s use of natural materials, clay, wood, fabrics, nails, and mundane objects like shopping carts, men’s suit jackets, chairs, draws attention to not only Indigenous issues but pressing and timeless issues such as homelessness and migration.

One of the works in the exhibition, “The Fountain”, consists in a video footage projected onto a screen of real falling water. The artist is seen in a lake struggling in the waves while trying to fill up a bucket. When she finally fills it up, she walks to the shore and throws the content of the bucket (red liquid supposedly blood) toward the viewers. The effect created by the real waterfall in the room including its sound enhances the corresponding image and sound of water in the video. What’s more, as a viewer I felt taken aback by this provocative action.

Belmore came to performance art in the late 80s. She says, “Physical labour has a way of clearing the mind and turning trees into lumber was very much a part of my immediate families’ livelihood back then.” In this spirit, in 2014 in a 12-hour durational performance in Toronto she hammered 1181 nails into a log. This was the number indigenous women the RCMP reported as missing or murdered up to that year. With each nail hammered into the stump, a piece of her red dress was hammered too, disappearing from her body and becoming part of the artwork. Visitors can see a video footage of this powerful performance at the exhibition.

Another highlight of the exhibition, “Tower,” is a 15-feet tall sculpture made of clay and shopping carts, and created on site at the AGO. As the artist explains herself, the idea for the artwork came after staring at the construction of a new condominium. On one hand condo development is business as usual, on the other, homelessness is a fact and demographics show that many people cannot afford to own a home. “I understood the severity of land as real estate – everything owned, everywhere for sale, and how, in our so-called great cities, the reality of owning anything is out of reach for most of us, with no solution in sight.”

In 2005, Belmore was Canada’s official representative at the Venice Biennale and in 2016, she was awarded the prestigious Gershon Iskowitz Prize by the Gershon Iskowitz Foundation in partnership with the Art Gallery of Ontario.

What is the deal with eco-tourism?

It’s a term being thrown around a lot within the tourism industry — eco-tourism. But, what exactly does that mean?

In the simplest terms, eco-tourism is the idea that your travel will not impact the environment. Instead, it will actually contributes to the local community.

When people travel, they tend to bring a lot of their baggage with them. And no, I’m not talking about emotional baggage or your carry-on.

Tourists tend to focus on only one thing. Sightseeing. They want to hit the most popular destinations, take perfectly filtered images for their Instagram account at the nicest restaurants, or visit franchise stores to do some shopping. These tourists take taxis, trains, and planes, and sometimes even use products with dangerous chemicals that could contaminate oceans. Don’t even get me started on the number of plastic straws used in beverages.

Most tourists create a carbon footprint that has the potential to damage a community, especially in remote locations or islands that depend on their natural beauty to attract revenue. While there isn’t much that can be done about completely eliminating this footprint, there is a way to reduce it. The answer is, obviously, eco-tourism.

According to the International Ecotourism Society, for an activity to be a part of “eco-tourism”, it has to have an educational aspect. It should promote conservation and community, while trying to adopt sustainable practices. Guides and participants must recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous People There should also be some financial benefit towards these practices. 

The activities must also operate within low-impact facilities.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) describes eco-tourism as “environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.”

The definitions are still open to interpretation. Some agencies choose to describe any nature-related activity or tour as eco-tourism. For example, whale watching in Hawaii is described as an eco-tourist activity. However, the cruise boat itself could be impacting the ecosystem below the surface of the water. A more ecologically-friendly activity would be to kayak or canoe the waters with a guide who talks about the wildlife or the conservation techniques in place to protect the natural beauty of an area.

Tourists can take tours of plantations or farms; but they can also participate for a day, learning hands on how food grows and gets to their plate. Visit an indigenous settlement and listen to stories from the community. If you go on a nature walk, stick to trails — don’t wander into a natural environment without a guide. Remember, the purpose of eco-tourism is to learn and give back to the community.

Here are three eco-tourism activities you can do in Ontario:

  • Redwing Institute Culture and Nature Discovery Walk: Take this 3-hour journey and learn about the Indigenous people of Humber Valley. Participants will explore the river valley, participate in a traditional ceremony, sample food and music, and explore history through oral storytelling. Part of the fees go towards a skill-development program for women from the Indigenous community living in Toronto.
  • Visit a Biosphere Reserve: Wilderness Eco-Adventures offers half and full day guided excursions of the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Reserve. Climb cliffs, explore caves, and see rare wildlife. They also offer more intensive workshops where you can learn a new skill like geology or bushcraft. Looking for a challenge? Spend three nights under the stars this winter. Proceeds support the Biosphere Association’s environmental projects.
  • EcoCab through Toronto: Instead of taking a bus or renting a car, see downtown Toronto up close with a pedal-powered bicycle. Don’t worry about the physical activity as each tour guide will also be your navigator and official pedal-er). There are four routes to choose from.

Have you participated in eco-tourism? Let us know what your experience was like in the comments below!