Rebecca Belmore, "True Grit, A Souvenir", 1989, mixed media. Collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery, gift of the artist.
About the Artwork
With True Grit, A Souvenir, Belmore presents an image and a title loaded with ironic and critical comments about male and female stereotypes, the role of women in North American culture and the history of Indigenous people in North America. She interprets the history embodied by the image and the title from her own critical perspective.
In addition to referencing the 1969 film True Grit, Belmore’s True Grit, A Souvenir also refers to what true grit means. Belmore has inserted an image of herself in jeans and a football jersey in the center of the “cushion” she has created. The work is sewn together from floral fabrics, referring to the stereotyped role that women play in that type of activity. By calling her work a souvenir, Belmore also draws our attention to how this kind of craftwork is reduced to being a commodity. The body language of the figure in the image, with arms folded and looking back at the viewer, strongly suggests there is power and value in grit.
About the Artist
Rebecca Belmore was born in Upsuala a small community in northwestern Ontario. After completing high school in the nearby city of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Belmore attended the Ontario College of Art and Desgin in Toronto, Ontario from 1984 to 1987.
In 1993 Belmore moved from Toronto back to her family’s home territory in the Sioux Lookout area of Ontario. It marked the beginning of an intense search by Belmore to gather knowledge of the land, the language and the history of the Anishinaabe people that she felt she’d missed.
Belmore is internationally recognized for her work, which draws on her Anishinaabe heritage, and addresses ideas about Indigenous history, place, identity and justice through sculpture, installation, video and performance. Her works are influenced by her indignation and sense of injustice about acts of violence, from the disappearance of women in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, British Columbia, to the massacre of Indigenous women and children at Wounded Knee South Dakota.
In 2005, Belmore was chosen to serve as Canada’s official representative at the Venice Biennale of Visual Art, the world’s oldest and most prestigious international exhibition of contemporary art, the first Indigenous woman to do so.
“My way of working is largely based on immediate experience,” Belmore wrote in an artist statement for a Canada Council news release. “The performances I have created over the years often directly responded to the place in which I found myself. Location and memory are key elements in my approach to making art. I have always had a strong interest in trying to imagine where we have been.” In the same statement, Belmore also spoke about her Indigenous heritage, and how it helps to shape her sense of mission as an artist. “I believe I am just beginning to understand my role, particularly as an artist who has inherited an Indigenous history.” (Belmore, 2004)
Things to Think About
- Recall an event from your past and compare your memory of it with the memories of other people who were also part of that event. Do memories differ on important points? Does this exercise illustrate that memory can be creative and elusive?
- What message is Belmore sending through her chosen clothing in True Grit, A Souvenir?
- True Grit, A Souvenir is an unconventional example of a self-portrait. How has this changed or contributed to your understanding of what a self-portrait could be?
- Is Belmore expressing a view about how First Nations people are often perceived through stereotypes in the tourist industry in True Grit: A Souvenir? A souvenir is also a keepsake or a symbol about a place. Do you think she wants us to think about the place and identity of Indigenous people?
Post your artwork online using the hashtag #studiosundaysyqr!
MAKE A “SOUVENIR” RELATED TO YOUR CULTURAL IDENTITY
What you Need:
- Unused object that you can use to create art on such as a box, chair, book, pillow, clothing
- Materials to create such as drawing and painting utensils, sewing materials, scissors and glue
What you Do:
- Throughout this activity, keep in mind the words “tradition”, “contemporary” and “stereotype”.
- Select an old found object you can use to make art. Examples might be a chair, a book, a pillow, a tablecloth, clothing items, a box.
- Make a list of traditional images or designs that are part of your heritage and show something about your background. (Some examples of this might be Ukrainian Easter egg patterns, First Nations beadwork; Chinese calligraphy).
- Decorate your found object using these or your own version of these images (for example, you might change their colors, media or style).