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Rebecca Belmore

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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.