Rebecca Belmore + Surfacing

By Jessica Brodeur

After the trip to the Art Gallery, many questions were raised about Rebecca Belmore as an artist. Her work was my least favorite of the two exhibits, although it stuck around in my mind way after the event. Maybe because of that, her goal had been obtained. I still wonder who was she trying to reach and with what message? Was she angry at, offended by, or feeling oppressed by anyone in particular? Why does her work keep surfacing in my busy mind if I didn’t really really understand it or am frustrated with it?

Belmore has two sides to her art: the need to express herself as a woman, and the need to express herself as a first nations citizen. She seems to make art in a corner with walls of oppression and constraint.

Her photography expresses the bounds that women have to expectation. The bindings restrict movement, transportation, freedom, and in some pieces even the access to the ground. Even the dress is extremely restricting with it’s corset top and hard-twig bustle. This could represent a variety of things, but one that stands out for me is the expectation of women to uphold their face or beauty or social status or heritage, whichever applies in the cultural situation. I find Belmore’s expression of women innovative and mysterious.

Her other message is about her first nations heritage. This part challenged my understanding because the messages are so subtle and the tone is so dark and unemotional. Her use of nature in her pieces including the log and the evergreen needles explores and rediscovers her ancestor’s connection with the natural world. Yet she indulges herself in contrasting those pieces with everything from modern impersonations of the natural world with camouflage, to the high-tech choice of creating a video. It’s almost a complete contradiction to make such a natural and earthy film about struggles and suffering and with such sophistication and privileged technology. It was difficult to adapt to Belmore’s style of representing her culture through art forms.

An interesting point to raise about Belmore is her attention to intricacy of her pieces. The dress drew ties between historical native spirit, and iconic colonial novelty. Her photograph Fringe related her very modern view on the female body with traditional artistry in a disturbing way. Subtle and complex details bring everything together, not necessarily in commonality of message but in stimulation of emotion towards her topics. Her work doesn’t celebrate aboriginal ancestry and femininity, but it does stir the viewers mind on the topic.

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