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True Grit, A Souvenir
Anishinabe heritage, injustice, text and subtext, indigenous history, Aboriginal history, place, identity, women, role of artist, artist's role, history, souvenir, art as craft, art as commodity, art as souvenir stereotyped roles of women, Aboriginal woman, authentic, body language, the gaze, power, grit, disappearance of women, embodied
description

With True Grit, A Souvenir, from the MacKenzie Art Gallery collection, Belmore presents an image and a title loaded with  ironicUsing the opposite to express what is really meant or expected. Irony can also be something absurd or laughable that occurs when what happens and what might be expected to happen are opposites.  and critical comments about male and female stereotypes, the role of women in North American culture and the history of Aboriginal people in North America. She interprets the history embodied by the image and the title from her own critical perspective.

start quoteThe performances I have created over the years often directly responded to the place in which I found myself.end quote
-- Rebecca Belmore

For instance, the first half of the title, True Grit, refers at one level to the 1969 film of the same name. In the film a headstrong 14-year old girl hires an aging United States Marshal (played by that paragon of masculinity, John Wayne) to avenge the death of her father. The film’s subtext is that the girl, no matter how high-spirited she might be, needs a man to protect her as they travel through Indian country (where the bad guys live) and complete the mission she has set for herself.

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 centre 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  souvenirObjects collected for the memories they evoke — often sentimental — and likely to remind one of significant people, places, or events. Anything natural or manmade might become a souvenir, although some things are made intentionally to be them: think about objects purchased at tourist destinations or concert venues, often with the name or image of the place or musicians integral to these things. Although many souvenirs could also be called ephemera, kitsch or low art, a seashell, a lock of hair, or a work of fine art might just as thoroughly satisfy a souvenir collector. (Artlex.com)  Belmore also draws our attention to how this kind of craftwork is reduced to being a commodity.

Considering the work from a completely different point of view, by placing herself, an Aboriginal woman, at the centre of the work and calling it True Grit, Belmore is paying homage to the women who supply “authentic” Aboriginal souvenirs to the tourist trade. The body language of the  figure1.  The form of a human, an animal or a thing; most often referring to an entire human form.  2.  A person of note (i.e., an important figure in history...)  in the image, with arms folded and looking back at the viewer, strongly suggests there is power and value in grit.

additional resources Things to Think About
  • “I am aware of the elusive nature of memory,” Belmore wrote in an Artist Statement. (Canada Council, 2004) 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?

    contextual-29.jpg

  • One of the recurring observations about Aboriginal art in Canada is that the most of the recorders of North American art history have excluded Aboriginal artists and their art traditions from this history. Today, however, that situation has begun to change. How does Belmore’s True Grit, A Souvenir reflect that change?
  • 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. Have a look at examples of self-portraits at Wikipedia. How is Belmore’s self-portrait different from the others you looked at? Why do you think she chose to present her self-portrait as she did?
Advanced Activity

Art and social studies link

Express a historical or  contemporaryCurrent, belonging to the same period of time. Usually referring to our present time, but can refer to being current with any specified time. (Artlex.com)  issue that is important to you.

The issue may be focused on Canada, or you might choose a global issue that concerns everyone. Some examples might be global warming, poverty, cruelty to animals, access to education, conquering a common disease, democracy, immigration and refugee needs.

  • Write in a free-style way about an aspect of society that you are interested in. Research all the facts so that you are aware of all opinions and perspectives.

Architecture

Advanced Activity

concrete installation

Thoughts about performance and installation art

Rebecca Belmore is regarded as one of Canada’s leading  performanceAn art form in which the actions of a person or group in a particular place at a particular time constitute the artwork; all works of performance art therefore incorporate time, space, the performer’s body, and the relationship between performer and viewer.  and  installationAn art work specially designed to fit in or to make use of a specific type of space. It usually consists of more than one element and relates to the space in which it is displayed.  artists. Her work encompasses installations that include sculptural objects, which often become settings for performance. As well, she creates objects that are not part of performance or installation work. True Grit: A Souvenir is an example.

You can visit Belmore’s website and watch video clips of her work.  In one interview (see the link below), she discusses what difficulties are encountered in being a performance artist and how she is perceived by the public, (a dilemma faced by other  contemporaryCurrent, belonging to the same period of time. Usually referring to our present time, but can refer to being current with any specified time. (Artlex.com)  artists as well.) Some examples of comments she hears are:

For basic information about performance art and its place in the discipline of visual art, go to:

Think about

  • The kind of research and preparation that performance and installation art requires. Does it require a similar process to that used to create other kinds of art?
  • The courage needed to make strong statements about issues that an artist is passionate about.
  • One’s vulnerability as an artist (being heckled or encountering opposition or even violence in some situations; needs of safety and support).
  • Legal issues about where to perform and other physical barriers that artists will encounter.
  • Financial support.  (Do artists just apply for grants or can they sell aspects of this kind of work? Who would buy the work?)
Online Activity
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Game of antonyms: Find them and reveal the image

In her art, Belmore likes to surprise her audience by showing opposing ideas. In language opposites are antonyms. Find the antonyms in the wall of blocks.

Click on a block to reveal a word. Click on another block to find the word’s opposite (in meaning). When you have found a match the blocks will disappear to reveal a part of Belmore’s artwork. Keep matching the antonyms to reveal the whole image. The pairs of words will be listed below.

Studio Activity

Interpretation as starting point

Do you think that Belmore might be thinking about identity in True Grit: A Souvenir?  Read about Belmore and her artwork here on the ARTSask website in this theme and decide for yourself what this piece is about.

Consider

Make your own “souvenir”

  • Throughout this activity, keep in mind the words “tradition”, “contemporary” and “stereotype”.
  • 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.)

Design a  souvenirObjects collected for the memories they evoke — often sentimental — and likely to remind one of significant people, places, or events. Anything natural or manmade might become a souvenir, although some things are made intentionally to be them: think about objects purchased at tourist destinations or concert venues, often with the name or image of the place or musicians integral to these things. Although many souvenirs could also be called ephemera, kitsch or low art, a seashell, a lock of hair, or a work of fine art might just as thoroughly satisfy a souvenir collector. (Artlex.com)  for your community

Tourists coming to Canada often buy souvenirs that are designed with stereotypical images of the place they are visiting. These might include images that everyone is familiar with. For example, a wheat sheaf is a common  symbolVisual image that represents something else.  used for representing Saskatchewan. This is an appropriate symbol, but might be seen as a  stereotypePreconceived and clichéd notions (biases or cognitive structures) that help individuals process information through associations between reality and the "pictures in your head." Stereotyping people often takes place in the social categories of race, national or ethnic groups, gender, class, generation or age group, profession, interest (geeks, nerds, jocks, skateboarders, chess-players), etc. Although stereotypes have often fed into xenophobic behaviours, stereotypes are not always negative. Because people are the products of their genes and their environment, they can form sweeping opinions about whole groups of people from the ways that people around them feel about and treat various people. The primary source for such notions is (or used to be) one's parents. The media — television, internet, etc. — have an increasingly powerful influence on the formation of stereotypes. (Artlex.com)  if people thought that the prairies and agriculture were the only provincial land and economic features we have. There is much more to communities in Saskatchewan than wheat!

References

Author unknown.  Rebecca Belmore.  Wikipedia.  .  Retrieved from the Internet on May 27, 2008 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebecca_Belmore

Author unknown.  ‘Rebecca Belmore will represent Canada at the 2005 Venice Biennale of Visual Art.’  News Release, Canada Council, June 17, 2004.  Retrieved from the Internet on May 27, 2008 from:  http://www.canadacouncil.ca/cgi-bin/MsmGo.exe?grab_id=0&page_id=3496&query=belmore&hiword=BELMORES belmore

Baird, Daniel.  ‘Trauma Mama.’  The Walrus, June 2005.  Retrieved from the Internet on May 27, 1008 from:  http://www.walrusmagazine.com/articles/2005.06-visual-art-rebecca-belmore/.

Art Supplies

FADO interview.  The Voice that speaks on my behalf,” a conversation between Rebecca Belmore and Paul Couillard.  Interview.  January 18, 2000.  Retrieved from the Internet on May 27, 2008 from:  http://www.performanceart.ca/time3x/belmore/interview.html.

Fischer, Barbara.  Appearing Acts: Rebecca Belmore’s 33 Pieces.  Exhibition catalogue. Blackwood Gallery, University of Toronto at Mississauga, Ontario, 2001.

Martin, Lee-Ann.  Structure as Painting PaintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  as Memorial.  Exhibition catalogue.  MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan, 2004.

Martin, Lee-Ann. The Language of Place.  Exhibition catalogue.  Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, British Columbia, 1994.

Rickard, Jolene.  ‘Rebecca Belmore: Performing Power.’  Rebeccabelmore.com.  Retrieved from the Internet on May 27, 2008 from:  http://www.rebeccabelmore.com/performing-power.html

Tuer, Dot.  Performing Memory: The art of storytelling in the work of Rebecca Belmore.  Exhibition catalogue.  Blackwood Gallery, University of Toronto at Mississauga, Ontario, 2001.

Williams, Megan.  ‘Painting the town red: Rebecca Belmore’s splashy debut at Venice Bienniale.’  Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, June 10, 2005.  Retrieved from the Internet on May 27, 2008 from: http://www.cbc.ca/arts/artdesign/belmore.html

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning