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Mixed Blessing by Rebecca Belmore, 2008, is featured on Facing Monumental at the AGO | Image Credit: Erica Commanda

Facing Monumental honours the lifetime works of Rebecca Belmore (Anishinaabe), a multi-disciplinary artist that creates works addressing the issues of our times. The exhibit features photographs, sculptures and media installations that are responses to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, residential schools, and the mistreatment of Indigenous people engaging the healthcare system.

Show curator Wanda Nanibush recalled her and Rebecca, “…walking in the park and thinking about monuments and Rebecca asked what would our monument be? So [Rebecca] chose this 150 year old tree to build a monument on/to/ and from. I then started thinking about how her work is about facing the monumental.”

MUSKRAT Staff Writer, Erica Commanda shares some of her highlights from Facing Monumental; the exhibit runs throughout the Art Gallery of Ontario until October 21, 2018.

Vigil (from The Named and the Unnamed, 2002): “That was created the year that Robert Pickton was brought to court. Shortly after he was arrested, I was invited to do a performance outside the Firehall Theatre in Vancouver. I decided to try to take that performance piece and transfer it to another medium. I put bulbs on the screen because there’s a moment [in the performance] where I’m lighting candles in memory of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. I like the idea of the memory of the documentation projected onto standing lights: so its a video of lights, the light bulb and the memory.” ~Rebecca Belmore

Blood In The Snow, 2002: “At that moment in time Afghanistan was being invaded and I was thinking about the violence that takes place on the land throughout time. This chair has a mysterious blood stain on it in the snow it’s kind of like someone witnessed this violence.” ~RB

Sister, 2010: “This is my sister. I knew that the march [for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women] would pass the window. Is she flying away? Is it a crucifix? Is she having a good time? It’s really just about the fact she [the photograph] was situated on Hastings Street in Vancouver. When I was taking it down this homeless man knocked on the window and went like this (imitates pose in photo), so I went out and talked to him. He said: anytime I walked by here, I go like this (imitates pose in photo). It was interesting to see people relate to an Indigenous woman.”~ RB

X series: The Artist, 2014: “This is a shot in Winnipeg in front of a building that was being renovated. This is myself: as an artist facing the orange wall and trying to figure out what to do with it. So I’m making art. I was standing there in -40, making art. It’s really a self portrait on some level.” ~RB

Fringe, 2008: “One day, I overheard a woman speaking about what had happened to her. When I heard her voice I knew that she was either Anishinaabe or Cree. She was speaking about how she had gone to the hospital to have surgery and took her beadwork with her. When she came to and was recovering from the anesthesia, the staff kept coming and going and they seemed amused for some reason. She looked at her incision, and realised the doctor had taken her own beads and stitched them into her body scar. So that freaked me out. I went on with my business that day, but that story and the sound of her voice never left me. In 2008 I decided to make a work about it.”~RB

Rising to the Occasion, 1987-1991: “In 1987, part of the Royal Family – Prince Andrew who had just married Sarah Ferguson visited Thunder Bay of all places. They were greeted at the Thunder Bay Airport, and journeyed in a birch bark canoe where they disembarked at Fort William. To me it seemed absurd that this Royal visit was taking place because it was basically the Royal Family re-enacting their own colonial history. So thought – what do I wear?”~RB

Wave Sound, 2017: “In 2017 I had the opportunity to make work as part of a project that was organized by Partners in Art here in Toronto. They invited artists to make works in National Parks. I chose three parks, Gros Morne, Banff, and Pukaskwa. If you look at the end of each sculpture, you will see that there is a cast of an inner-side of an ear. That was a sign for the public to figure out that these were listening devices. They were all by the water, so it was all about listening to the water. You have to sit down on the earth and put your ear to the cone, and concentrate so you hear the noise of the wind and the water.” ~RB

Wanda Nanibush: These works that are a part of the exhibit are a self reflexivity/portrait on being an artist today and how important it is for them to actively tackle some of the things that we are addressing right now. We are in a time where we can’t ignore what’s happening in the world. To do so is a deep irresponsibility. The way that Rebecca addresses the act of making art as a form of action itself is quite profound and a constant reminder of what our responsibility is.

*All photographs above taken by Erica Commanda

Wanda Nanibush Bio: is an Anishinaabe-kwe curator, image and word warrior, and community organizer from Beausoleil First Nation, located in Southern Ontario. Nanibush has a Master’s degree in visual studies from the University of Toronto. Over the past two decades, Nanibush has served in a wide range of capacities from programmer and festival coordinator to Aboriginal arts officer and executive director. During that time, she worked with organizations such as ImagineNATIVE, LIFT, Optic Nerve Film Festival, Reframe Film Festival, the Ontario Arts Council, Aboriginal Curatorial Collective, and the Association for Native Development in the Performing & Visual Arts (ANDPVA). Her curatorial credits include the exhibitions Toronto: Tributes + Tributaries, 1971-1989 (AGO), Sovereign Acts II (Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery), and the award winning KWE: The work of Rebecca Belmore (Justina M. Barnicke Gallery). Nanibush has published widely on the subject of Indigenous art as well as women’s issues, and is currently at work on her first book, titled Violence No More: The Rise of Indigenous Women.

Rebecca Belmore Bio: Born in Upsala, Ontario, Belmore is an artist currently living in Vancouver, British Columbia. She attended the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto and is internationally recognized for her performance and installation art. Since 1987, her multi-disciplinary work has addressed history, place and identity through the media of sculpture, installation, video and performance. Belmore was Canada’s official representative at the 2005 Venice Biennale. Her work has appeared in numerous exhibitions both nationally and internationally including two solo touring exhibitions, The Named and the Unnamed, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, Vancouver (2002); and 33 Pieces, Blackwood Gallery, University of Toronto at Mississauga (2001). Her group exhibitions include Houseguests, Art Gallery of Ontario (2001); Longing and Belonging: From the Faraway Nearby, SITE Santa Fe, Santa Fe, New Mexico (1995); Land, Spirit, Power, National Gallery of Canada (1992); and Creation or Death: We Will Win, at the Havana Biennial, Havana Cuba (1991).

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About The Author

Erica Commanda

Born in Toronto, Erica Commanda (Algonquin/Ojibwe) grew up in the small community of Pikwakanagan. From there she moved across Canada living in Ottawa, Vancouver and now Toronto, working in the bar/hospitality industry, mastering the art of listening to stories from her regulars while slinging and spilling drinks (at them or to them). And now through a series of random decisions and events in life she is on a journey discovering and mastering her own knack for storytelling as Associate Editor for MUSKRAT Magazine.

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