In 2002, those strolling through the Downtown East Side neighborhood of Vancouver saw that Rebecca Belmore, of the Anishinaabe people, had nailed her long red dress to a telephone pole. She struggled to free herself, and once freed, her dress hanging in shreds and her underwear exposed, she silently read the names of the missing women written on her arm. He concluded his performance by shouting the names one by one.
Belmore is a multidisciplinary artist, and this is part of her work called “Vigil” (Vigil); through which it pays tribute to the lives of indigenous women who have died or disappeared from the streets of Vancouver. She wants “all women to know that they have not been forgotten: that their spirit is evoked and that they are given life by the power of naming them.”
The performance, now shown on video at Belmore exhibits, may surprise distracted observers, but the truth is that in Canada, which is often high on global quality of life charts, Indigenous women suffer. high rates of violence. In 2014, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police confirmed that 1,017 indigenous women have been murdered and 164 others have disappeared since 1980, despite the fact that indigenous women only make up 4.3% of the country's female population.
A study by the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) found that indigenous women are three times more likely than non-indigenous women to be killed by a stranger (16.5%), an acquaintance (17%) and by their partner (23%).
This study concludes that these women experience violence by indigenous and non-indigenous criminals, mostly men. It also reveals that only 53% of these murder cases have resulted in homicide charges, well below 84% of the country's national homicide rate.
The Quebec Native Women (QNW) association has stated that, before the arrival of Europeans, indigenous women played an essential role in the health, spirituality, education, economy and politics of their communities. All this changed drastically with the imposition of the policies of the “European patriarchy” that have continued to this day.
According to researchers from various Canadian universities, such as Marie-Pierre Bousquet and Sigfrid Tremblay, systematic colonialist policies imposed by the country's federal government have tried to assimilate indigenous peoples to the Euro-Canadian way of life, eroding their native culture and identity.
An example of these policies is the Indian Law, in force since 1876, which dictates how the federal government decides on issues related to these peoples. Originally, the goal was their progressive extinction from Canada. Anthropologist Pierre Lepage says that this law still affects their legal capacity and undermines their autonomy.
The QNW calls it the “ideology of suppression” that began with the “progressive expropriation of the territories” of indigenous women and forced them to go “from loss to loss” of resources, autonomy, identity and culture.
For this organization, among the consequences of colonialism is the unfavorable socioeconomic context in which indigenous women live today, which, in turn, increases the risks to their very existence. Furthermore, violence against these women in Canada has been termed genocide.
To overcome their suffering, indigenous women have denounced and resisted a colonizing, racist and sexist system. Slowly but surely, art has become a valuable tool for expression and for catharsis, allowing them to claim an alternative, incisive and heartbreaking version of their history, and to accept the role of society in their current challenges as well. Here are some of his most moving artistic expressions:
Rebecca Belmore's “1181” (2014)
Belmore drove the 1,181 nails into a tree stump, each representing a case of murder or disappearance of an indigenous woman recorded by Police statistics.
Rebecca Belmore's “Fringes” (2007)
The work is a photo of a half-naked woman lying on her side, with her back to the camera, in which you can see a stitched scar that goes from the shoulder to the bottom, and from which red pearls emerge, symbol of blood.
Rebecca Belmore, Fringe, Cibachrome transparency in fluorescent light box. Installation view, Remai Modern 2019.
Rebecca Belmore: In front of the Monumental is on view until May 5 at the Remai Modern.
Join a free guided tour of the expo this weekend at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Facing the Monumental is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario and curated by Wanda Nanibush, Curator of Indigenous Art.
Belmore says of the piece “it is the body that does not disappear.” In her work, she often draws the female body with healed scars, such as those worn by many survivors, to demonstrate the resistance of indigenous women.
“Walking with Our Sisters” by Christi Belcourt (2012-present)
The artist Christi Belcourt, metis (or francomestizos), mestizo race (white-indigenous), made an installation in which she placed 1763 pairs of moccasin blades, embroidered with beads, on the ground. Each represents a missing or murdered woman, and children who never returned home from residential schools, responsible for the systemic separation of indigenous children from their families and culture.
Jamie Black's “REDress Project” (2011)
This installation involved the collection of 600 red dresses, a color that symbolizes protection against violence, through donations from the community. Black, a Metis artist like Belcourt, wanted the work to be an aesthetic response to violence against women. Through the absence of female bodies that the dresses should wear, it creates a visual reminder of the large number of women who are no longer around.
Kent Monkman's “The Three Graces” (2014)
Monkman, a Cree-Irish artist, is known for creating a strong visual critique that incorporates alternate versions of the dominant narrative of colonialism, all from a personal and indigenous perspective.
Using irony, Monkman denounces violence against indigenous women, including sexual exploitation and prejudice against those who work in the sex industry. For example, his painting “Breakfast on the Lawn” shows naked prostitutes lying in front of a hotel in Winnipeg, a province where 70-80% of street prostitution is made up of indigenous women.
In her version of Rubens' “The Three Graces”, the goddesses of charm, beauty and creativity are represented by three indigenous women with different bodies. With this piece, Monkman pays tribute to the “missing and dead sisters”; as he himself said “In Canada, there is a lot of violence against indigenous women (…) there are more than 1,300 missing and dead”.
As an outspoken critic of the majority society's lack of understanding of indigenous peoples, Monkman also struggles to highlight the power of indigenous women's femininity, which is highly respected in indigenous tradition.
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“Every year on this day, we remember our missing and murdered sisters. Our relatives on unceded Wet’suwet’en lands hung red dresses to hold the spirits of the thousands who have been lost, but never forgotten. Their camp was illegally invaded and the dresses torn down. But we remember our sisters, children, daughters, mothers, partners, aunties, friends, and grandmothers. We remember them always. The Unist’ot’en do not consent to industrial work camps on their territories. These man camps increase violence against our sisters all across our lands. Those protecting their sisters also protect the land. They do it with love, sâkihiwêwin. They do it for all of us. ” – Miss Chief Eagle Testickle https://unistoten.camp/mancamps/ https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/final-report/ The Three Graces Kent Monkman 2017 Acrylic on canvas 60 ”x 48” #MMIW # MMIWGT2S # highwayoftears #Indigenousrights #UNDRIP #WETSUWETENSTRONG
Every year on this day, we remember our missing and murdered sisters.
Our relatives in the undisclosed lands of wet'suwet'en hung red dresses to hold the spirits of the thousands who have been lost, but never forgotten. Their camp was illegally invaded and the dresses were torn down. But we remember our sisters, sons, daughters, mothers, partners, aunts, friends, and grandmothers. We always remember them.
The Unist'ot'en do not allow industrial labor camps in their territories. These men's camps increase violence against our sisters in all our lands.
Quenes protect their sisters also protect the earth. They do it with love, Sâkihiwêwin. They do it for all of us.
– Miss Chief Eagle Testickle
Indigenous art is a therapy for individual and collective suffering. According to the Health and Human Services Commission, it promotes endurance and has a positive effect on identity, self-esteem, emotional well-being, and mental and physical health. Art as an educational tool could also hold the Canadian government accountable for its policies and promote a true reconciliation process.