Canadian-based Rebecca Belmore is a First Nation Anishinaabe multimedia artist, who has been exploring the suffering endured by Indigenous communities. Her sculptures, installations, performance work, and videos deal with the consequences of colonization. Her art work has examined the way Canadian authorities have dealt with issues of murdered and missing Indigenous women. Her art explores the limiting of Indigenous voices and the exploitation of their lands.
Because of the Canadian government’s policy of imposed assimilation, Belmore was sent away to live with a non-Native family when she attended high school. This displacement has always stayed with her. She attended the Ontario College of Art and Design in 1988 and was awarded an honorary Doctorate degree in 2005 from this college.
Her 2005 provocative video installation “Fountain,” shown first in the Canadian Pavilion of the 2005 Venice Biennale, protests colonial industries that log and drill on Native lands. She portrays this as rape and violence against a female earth. “Fountain” shows Belmore breaking free from polluted logging sewage and angrily throwing what appears to be a bucket of red blood at viewers. This action is projected on a 15-foot curtain of falling water as the symbolic blood conjures the global connections of water, earth, and people.
In 2014, she performed outdoors digging into snow in Saskatoon with her labored breathing recorded for all to hear both inside a building and its outside landscape.
Belmore’s 2017 sculpture “Biinjiya’iing Onji” (“from inside”) brought the historical experience of colonization to present time by suggesting affinities between Indigenous peoples and migrants from the Middle East and Africa, who seek asylum in Europe. This work is a marble sculpture of a modern tent that first sat on the Hill of Muses facing the Acropolis before being shown in Kassel, Germany in Documenta 14. Greece has been a major entry point to the European Union for refugees from Syria. Many of these displaced people are confined to crude tent-villages around Athens. With her marble tent Belmore not only recalls wigwams of Native people but also critiques current injustices and asks people to imagine a more inclusive world.
Belmore’s 2018 show, “Facing the Monumental,” at the Art Gallery of Ontario, addressed thirty years’ worth of work. One work, “Mixed Blessings,” shows a crouched, hooded figure with arms outstretched in the position of a supplicant. The figure’s long black hair spreads out onto the floor, and the figure wears a jacket with words written on it, which narrate the contradictions of being both an ‘Indian’ and an artist.
Her sculpture “Tower” 2018 is a gigantic pilar of shopping carts, stacked around a column, that stands next to a small tarpaulin whose tattered blanket is thrown over a human form. Both the carts and the tarpaulin are essential for the survival of homeless people.
Belmore was awarded membership in the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. In 2005, Canada nominated her for the Venice Biennale. She received a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2013. In 2018 she was awarded an honorary Doctorate from the Emily Carr University of Art & Design.