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Christi Belcourt Show at Thunder Bay Art Gallery

WTIP Volunteer, Gary Latz talks with Christi Belcourt about her retrospective "Uprising: The Power of Mother Earth" on North Shore Morning.

“When I remember who I am – a human being connected to all of life – I remember also that I am loved by the spirit world and our ancestors. And when I remember this, I remember to respect even the smallest of things.” – Christi Belcourt

It is the ‘smallest of things’ – and the beautifully complex detail – that captivate anyone viewing a painting by Métis artist Christi Belcourt.  Her large canvases feature roots, twining stems, graceful leaves and flowers that echo the traditional motifs of eighteenth-century Métis beadwork.  Stylized fish, and figures gesturing in reverence to Mother Earth, also appear in Belcourt’s works.
From June 22-November 25, 2018, a mid-career retrospective of this prolific artist’s work will be at Thunder Bay Art Gallery.  UPRISING: THE POWER OF MOTHER EARTH is an exceptional gathering of Belcourt’s paintings from the collections of individuals, Métis organizations, and major Ontario galleries. 

People love Belcourt’s art.  Her fascinating designs are executed principally in tiny dots made by dipping the end of a stylus, paintbrush or knitting needle into paint. The time and stamina required to produce these large works speak to her energy and commitment. 

A passionate belief in the interconnectedness of all living things is central to Belcourt’s art and her work as an environmental activist and advocate for water, land, and the preservation of Indigenous languages.
She is a guiding force in the Ontario-based Onaman Collective which focuses on sharing Indigenous traditional knowledge and language with youth.  
Her collaborative art practice with knowledge-keeper Isaac Murdoch provides a way – particularly through community-based banner-making events – to promote strong messages about environmental and social conditions affecting both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. 
To honour this collaboration, selected works by Isaac Murdoch will be included in the upcoming exhibition which is subtitled, Christi Belcourt – A Retrospective with Isaac Murdoch.  During their time in Thunder Bay, Belcourt and Murdoch expect to join community members in making banners to send to groups working to protect water in Canada and the US.

Visitors to the Thunder Bay Art Gallery may well remember Walking with Our Sisters, the art project exhibited in 2012 which honours the lives of murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada and the United States. This community-based installation was spearheaded by Belcourt.  It has continued as a touring memorial involving over 1500 artists and thousands of volunteers. More than 30,000 people have visited it in 13 communities. The tour will conclude in 2019.  

Despite her professional profile, Belcourt has not had an exhibition of this size before, and certainly not one which will travel to several Canadian centres. Organized by Thunder Bay Art Gallery in conjunction with Carleton University Art Gallery (Ottawa), this remarkable exhibition will tour to galleries in Ottawa, Joliette, Regina, and Winnipeg until 2020. 

  Although Belcourt is known primarily as a painter, she also practices traditional arts, working with beads, hides, clay, copper, and wool trade cloth, and most recently, plant fibres, birch bark and ochre. These traditional materials link Belcourt to her Métis ancestry in the historic community of Manitou Sakhigan (Lac Ste. Anne), Alberta. Raised in Ontario,  the artist is the first of three children born to Indigenous rights leader Tony Belcourt and Judith Pierce Martin.
Through all aspects of her art practice, Belcourt asks us to live in balance with nature. 
“The sacred laws of this world are of respect and reciprocity,” she says in her artist statement. “When we stop following them, we as a species are out of balance with the rest of the world.” She adds, “All I know is that all life, even the rocks, need to be treated with respect.”

By Holly Rupert
Thunder Bay Art Gallery staff writer