Canadian Artist of the Week: LOOK AT THIS: Christi Belcourt’s Intricate Patterns And Moving Aboriginal Commemorations
LOOK AT THIS is a weekly series featuring the work of Canadian artists, designers and creators of all sorts.
Name: Christi Belcourt
Born: Scarborough, Ontario, 1966 (Belcourt notes her Métis community is Manitou Sahkhigan, Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta)
Lives and works: Espanola, Ontario
Her work: Belcourt is most famous for her elaborate acrylic paintings of plants and flowers based on traditional Métis and First Nations motifs and patterns. “Our ancestors left us with the artistic legacy of beadwork, quillwork, embroidery,” she told Strombo.com. “I feel like I’m following a long line of artists by taking an artform traditionally done to adorn useful or wearable items and adapting that to the way we live today by painting on canvas.” Belcourt recently won the Ontario Arts Council’s Aboriginal Arts Award, and in 2012, her stained-glass window Giniigaaniimenaaning was installed in the House of Commons as a reminder of the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools in Canada.
On incorporating environmental themes: “I am constantly worried about the health of the planet and what we are leaving for future generations. I mean look at the mess we are leaving,” Belcourt said. “There is a pile of garbage the size of Texas in the Pacific ocean no one knows what to do with. Oil spills are everywhere…. It’s not fair to the other life that shares this planet with us, and it’s not fair to our own children, grandchildren and the next seven generations who will have to clean up our mess. So I try to paint things that are beautiful. I feel like I need to create beauty for my own soul or I’ll go mad with grief for all we see around us.”
On Walking With Our Sisters: Walking With Our Sisters is a project Belcourt launched calling on “caring souls” across Canada to make moccasin tops to commemorate missing and murdered Aboriginal women (they intentionally have no soles, to represent lives cut short). “I was driving down Highway 17 to Ottawa and became overwhelmed by emotion as I was thinking of a girl whose missing poster was circulated on Facebook that morning. She reminded me of my own daughter. I though of her mother and what she must be going through and how the justice system had failed her.” She received 1725 pairs from 1372 different artists, and the project, which has expanded to incorporate everything from traditional ceremonies to film screenings, will tour for seven years.
Other Canadian art she admires: “Rebecca Belmore is an artist I look up to. Her work is like a one-two punch. It’s so powerful and poignant. There are so many indigenous artists that are doing important work. I see them as superheros really, like they are piece by piece lifting our people out of the history of oppression, colonization and injustice that has kept us down for so long.” Other art Belcourt mentioned includes the paintings of Travis Shilling, the photographs of Nadya Kwandibens, the stencil art of Erin Konsmo and the illustrations and stop-motion work of Amanda Strong. “I also had the pleasure of naming Jaime Koebel as an emerging artist laureate for the OAC Aboriginal Arts Award,” she added. “She is a person who lives and breathes her art. Indigenous artists are making some of the most powerful work in Canada right now.”
Walking With Our Sisters is on display until July 5 at Elks Hall in Flin Flon, MB, and has tour dates scheduled into 2018.