“Part of my interest in making art is to provoke a viewer to think about certain issues. And I do that through creating images that may, on first sight appear to be – hopefully!- beautiful. But when you look closer you may see something that’s a little out of sync with that beauty. That’s where I hope to get people to think about the image they’re looking at.” June 2008
Rebecca Belmore’s work in performance, installation, photography and video addresses the politics of representation. Her images of provocation, subtle intervention and resistance are rooted in the tragic history of native cultures in North America. She tackles the difficult issues of injustice, racism, violence and the plight of the disenfranchised and marginalized in society, convinced that art has the potential to effect social change. A series of recurring themes or elements connect her work: the questioning of official narratives, the labouring, struggling or missing body, the repetitive gesture and the use of natural materials.
Rebecca Belmore attended the experimental art program at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto from 1984-86. In her early work, Belmore calls attention to the continual romanticization of Indigenous culture. Through the use of strong symbolic references, such as clothing, she challenges the conventional stereotypes of both Indigenous and Western European culture. Belmore’s performances reveal sensitivities to history and place, memory and absence. The artist's own physical body is a constant presence in these works enabling her to explore the self and community, boundaries between public and private, power relations in contemporary society and the effects of colonization on Indigenous Peoples, especially women. In these works, Belmore widens the distance between the artist and the visitor, confining them to the role of voyeur and specimen.
In her intricate sculptural work, Belmore uses found material and very often uses materials gathered directly from the land. Many of her sculptural works reference the aesthetics of minimalism but contradict this history in that they are often laboriously created through an accumulation of anti-heroic, anti-industrial and ephemeral natural materials. Her objects share with her performances similar processes of endurance, repetition, and labour. (Thin Red Line.) Disappeared bodies speak to the larger issues of mortality, to life and death. Water, fire, blood are also recurring elements that she uses to reference colonial histories.
Photography plays an increasing role in Belmore’s work. It serves as a document or as a preparation for her installation/ performance work. Images of the body bound (To rest and to dream and Bloodless), are strikingly minimal and the relationship between the body and the fabric remain ambiguous.
Belmore received the Doris and Jack Shadbolt Foundation’s VIVA Award in 2004. She was Canada's official representative at the 2005 Venice Biennale and recipient of the Hnatyshyn Foundation visual arts award in 2009.
In 2013 Rebecca Belmore was a recipient of the Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts.