“I make art – it is my life. I don’t know what else I could do now,” says Rebecca Belmore. “I can’t stop. I am an artist.”
“It’s my job.”
And for Belmore, the job she took on was formidable: to expose the social and political realities of life as an Indigenous person in Canada. From colonialism and displacement, racism and silenced voices, to violence and environmental degradation, the Anishinaabe artist has spent the last 30 years making art that confronts, disrupts yet holds hope.
“I think artists are essential to the world; we’ve a role to play in our society,” explains Belmore, winner of the 2013 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts.
“When I began in the late 80s, things were difficult in the art world in terms of appropriation and identity, in terms of who had the right to speak for whom.”
So Belmore turned to performance art, using her body to speak. “It made sense for me to use my body as the material, as I was the authentic voice to speak to First Nations issues,” she says.
Incorporating installation, sculpture, video and photography into her practice, Belmore’s created evocative and provocative works that resonate worldwide, among them Rising to the Occasion, Ayum-ee-aawach Oomama-mowan: Speaking to Their Mother, Fringe, Wave Sound and Biinjiya’iing Onji (From inside).
In addition to gallery shows, touring solo shows and special commissions, the internationally renowned artist exhibited at the IV Bienale de la Habana, at the Tirana Biennale in Albania and twice at the Sydney Biennale.
In 2005, Belmore was the first Indigenous woman to represent Canada at the Venice Biennale, with her work Fountain. In 2017, Belmore showed at documenta 14 in Athens and, more recently, the Art Gallery of Ontario celebrated her career with its retrospective Rebecca Belmore: Facing the Monumental.
Belmore also received the Doris Shadbolt Foundation’s VIVA Award, the Hnatyshyn Visual Arts Award and the prestigious Gershon Iskowitz Prize. She holds honorary degrees from Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver and OCAD University in Toronto.
“I make work from my presence — as a human being,” says Belmore. “I believe my work as an Anishinaabe artist is open enough and that people from other cultures can relate to it.”
For anyone embarking on a career in professional art, Belmore offers this advice: Don’t be afraid. Be fearless, even a little wild.
“Making art is a way of life — all part of creating our own place in this world and at the same time wanting to speak to a larger audience,” says Belmore. “And I think I am contributing to the world through the art that I make.”
“Being an artist is exciting,” she adds. “You’re alive and you’ve only so much time, so you better get out there, get to work and stick with it.”
“It’s not an easy life, but it is great.”
Belmore will be awarded a Doctor of Fine Arts (honoris causa) degree during the NSCAD Graduation ceremony on April 29, 2019.