Rebecca Belmore,
“Resistance as Rebellion”

Belmore’s thirty-year career has always proposed contestations to official histories and dominant narratives.

Ellyn Walker, “Resistance as Resilience in the Work of Rebecca Belmore” in Desire Change: Contemporary Feminist Art in Canada, 2017, pp. 136

Born in Northern Ontario in 1960, Rebecca Belmore is a member of the Lac Seul First Nation (Anishinaabe) and a celebrated artist who works in a number of media, including photography, film, performance, and community projects. We’re reading an essay about Belmore’s work and its place in a broad field of resistant art in Canada, but you ought to start by watching the video produced by Danielle Sturk for the Canada Council, which is linked below.

Rebecca Belmore, 2013 Canada Council Laureate
View Time: 4:18 Minutes
Video source

Art historian Ellyn Walker’s essay about Belmore is part of a larger book about feminist art in Canada. In this section, the editors insist that Indigenous peoples’ self-representation through art is an important strategy for challenging colonial epistemologies and social frameworks. Walker describes three works of art from Belmore’s long career. All of these works can be described as performance art. Rather than produce an image or painting that can be hung on a gallery wall, performance artists invite their audiences to a live and unpredictable experience. As Walker argues, Rebecca Belmore’s performances work toward the goal of challenging dominant narratives and official histories by amplifying the voices of Indigenous women.

As you read:

  • Take note Belmore’s long-standing commitment to counteracting the erasure of Indigenous women and keep a list of artistic decisions she makes to accomplish this goal.
  • How does Walker support the claim that Indigenous women are erased or annihilated?
  • Walker includes images of each of the works that she describes – look at them carefully. How do they make you feel? What ideas do the images draw to mind for you? Does the work make you think differently about settler colonialism?

Find the Belmore reading here. NOTE: we’re reading the chapter that begins on p. 134

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videos from
Canadian Art Magazine

Total View Time: 18:52 Minutes

In the videos below, you’ll hear directly from Canadian artists who are, like Belmore, using art as a tool for resilience and resistance. These artists use multiple mediums: drawing, painting, photography, sound, natural objects, found cultural artifacts, and performance. Additionally, they explore very different themes in their work: sexual violence, environmental degradation, colonial violence. Not all of them would describe their work as feminist art. Their art practices demonstrate a capacity to push boundaries, challenge conventional representations, and to put their own interpretations of the world into the world.

As you watch:

  • Note the wide variety of themes, mediums, and politics in the work of each of these artists
  • Look for connections to the overarching themes of WGS 101

KC Adams, for instance, challenges ideas about art by exploring the way that pottery, and the creative activities of her ancestral mothers, is a form of art that needs to be valued and respected.

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Lou Shepphard‘s work is attuned to queerness, understood not only as a mode of desire or gender non-normativity, but as a force of dissonance and disruption. Their interdisciplinary work is often site specific and lodged in specific environments. In the video below, they describe a queer project of composition. In it, Shepphard explores to the land and explores new ways to name our relationships with landscapes.

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Interdisciplinary artist Gloria Swain uses her art to bring awareness to the absence of stories about black Canada. Her work performs the crucial role telling stories about those who are often overlooked.

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Faced with an entire field of visual culture that fails to represent bodies of colour, Rajni Perera (b. 1985 in Sri Lanka, lives in Toronto) describes her work as a strategy for upsetting the balance of power. As she tells us in the video below, uplifting and empowering bodies of colour is her intention in every painting.

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A musician whose artistic practice takes the form of installation art and performance, Rita McKeough describes the art gallery as a public forum. Making art is one way to assert your own interpretation of the world; it is a form of speaking up and working to imagine new worlds and ways to change the world in which we find ourselves.

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An artist, activist, and scholar, Syrus Marcus Ware describes his drawings as a way to celebrate unsung activists. These are larger than life images of black, trans, and disabled bodies and it matters that they are large. They are images that take up space and demand recognition for those whose transformational activist work often goes unrecognized.

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