By Megan Finnerty
Art expresses concepts and ideas that can challenge us, that can move us to look at things from a whole new perspective, and trigger emotions. I must admit that I hold a special place for art that takes risks, and more importantly, provokes. Before entering the Vancouver Art Gallery this September, the works of Rebecca Belmore were unknown to me. I noticed immediately conflict reflected in her work.
As I walked through the exhibit, viewing her work and learning about her background, I noticed that many of her pieces revolved around an internal struggle with her own identity. Many of the pieces I viewed at the gallery showed her need to reclaim her Anishinabe roots after spending much of her adolescent life in non-native communities. Belmore’s work expresses the conflict between the culture she was born into and the culture that was forced upon her.
As I wandered through the gallery staring at each piece intently, I turned a corner. As I faced a new wall with a new piece, I was welcomed into this image with its warm backlighting, almost as if it were a billboard. The photograph, entitled ‘The Fringe’, was like nothing I had ever seen. It’s one of Belmore’s newer pieces, a photograph of a naked woman viewed from behind. The woman has a white sheet draped over her hips. She has dark hair with vivid blonde streaks, and a small bruise on her right elbow. The background is clean and almost medical-like. However, it was the graphic depiction of a sutured wound that made its way diagonally across her entire back, starting at the top of her right shoulder, that I could not take my eyes off of. Not only was the wound unbelievably detailed and graphic, it was intricately strung with beads from top to bottom, almost as if they were streaming out of the wound like blood.
The image was so astounding to me that I couldn’t help but feel a physical connection to my own body, soon leading to an emotional connection to the figure, as well as the artist. So many questions and interpretations came to mind the longer I focused on it. Is she trying to make a political statement? Could it solely represent bodily violence? Violence against women? Violence against native women? I view this piece as an interpretation of her personal struggle conveyed in a single image; the nudity representing a vulnerable woman literally being stripped of her native culture, yet also revealing a deep wound beneath. Maybe not just a personal wound, but a societal wound as well. This piece provokes the viewer and dares them to examine injury, as well as the interpretations that flow from it.