Renowned Canadian artist to create major original piece for CMHR
One of Canada's most celebrated contemporary artists, Rebecca Belmore, will create a large and prominent work of original art for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), its president and CEO Stuart Murray announced today.
As part of the artist's concept, the public will help create thousands of hand-pressed clay "beads" during workshops designed to include children, families and people from diverse backgrounds. The finished piece will be displayed on an enormous 74-square-metre wall in the Indigenous Perspectives gallery of Canada's new national museum, which opens in September 2014.
Belmore works with Red River Valley gumbo clay to create "beads" for her installation in the CMHR.
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"Art is a powerful medium for relaying human rights messages and Belmore's work is both powerful and important: not only within Canada, but around the world," Murray said today at a news conference held at Neechi Commons, an Aboriginal owned and operated cooperative in Winnipeg's North End, where the first workshop takes place tomorrow.
"We are extremely proud that an artist of Rebecca Belmore's stature will contribute her own human rights vision to the Museum in such a creative, innovative and participatory way."
Belmore said her artistic vision for the piece — titled "Trace" — was inspired by the land itself, the idea of territory and place, and the archaeological artifacts unearthed from the CMHR site in 2008 – including almost 200 Aboriginal firepits. Red River Valley clay gumbo, which forms the earth beneath the CMHR, will be used as a major component in the beads.
"The use of clay, the earth itself, imbues the artwork with a sense of timelessness," said Belmore, a Winnipeg-based Anishinaabe artist whose work has achieved national and international acclaim, including the 2013 Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts, exhibitions in the National Gallery of Canada, and becoming the first Aboriginal woman to represent Canada at the prestigious Venice Biennale international art exhibition. A biography is attached below.
"The gesture of forming these beads is a reminder of how precious and universal the bond is between humans and the earth. The human trace, the hands of generations past and those to come, is an inherent part of this artwork. Everyone who was involved 'owns' a piece of it. Each bead is an individuals' contribution to this piece."
The thousands of individualized beads will reflect concepts of earth, water and sky, and speak to the existence of the peoples who first inhabited these lands. The beads will be pierced and strung together, then installed to resemble a giant hanging blanket or shawl with exaggerated folds, pulled up from the middle as if on a hook.
A blanket has been a recurring symbol in much of Belmore's work, as an object loaded with significance for First Nations Peoples – from the sinister history of the smallpox pandemic of the 18th century to systemic human rights violations that have left many Aboriginal people "out in the cold".
The art installation is being curated by Lee-Ann Martin, one of Canada's foremost curators of Canadian Aboriginal art, who has worked for the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec and the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina.
Altogether, the Museum will include over 250 works of art and artifacts – including 10 commissioned original pieces – that help connect visitors with human rights.
Belmore's workshops will be held during February and March at schools, community centres and public spaces in and around Winnipeg.
The CMHR is the first museum in the world solely dedicated to the evolution, celebration and future of human rights. It is the first national museum in Canada to be built outside the National Capital Region. Using multimedia technology and other innovative approaches, the Museum will create inspiring encounters with human rights in a visitor experience unlike any other.
About the artist
Rebecca Belmore's work is firmly rooted in the current political and social realities of Aboriginal communities in Canada, but its power and poetry resonate worldwide. She has earned international acclaim, notably at the Venice Biennale's Canadian Pavilion in 2005, where she was the first Aboriginal woman to represent Canada.
Canada Council for the Arts / Martin Lipman.
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Her performances, sculptures, videos, photographs and installations evoke the connections between bodies, land and language, and the violence that colonialism has enacted upon them. Whether a vigil for missing women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside or a photograph of a deep scar, healed and adorned with beads, her work is imbued with ritual that plays out on the body, on the land and in the elements.
During the past 15 years, Belmore's works have appeared in over 60 exhibitions across North America and around the world, including two solo tours. Her work has been featured at the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Samstag Museum of Art in Adelaide, Australia, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, as well as exhibitions in Italy, Belgium, Japan and Cuba.
Fringe, 2008, backlit transparency in lightbox. Photo: courtesy Rebecca Belmore.
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She is the recipient of the 2013 Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts, the 2009 Hnatyshyn Foundation arts award, the 2005 Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award for media arts, the 2004 VIVA award and the 2004 Steam Whistle art award for best museum show in Toronto.
Belmore was born and raised in Upsala, Ontario and educated at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, from which she received an honorary doctorate in 2005. She now lives in Winnipeg.