Rebecca Belmore | What Is Said and What Is Done

June 18 - September 1, 2013

Rebecca Belmore is a storyteller like none other.

The Anishinaabe artist deploys performance, sculpture, photography and video to create, as Jessica Bradley has written, a “language of images and actions that insist on the difference between what is said and what is done.”

Two works in the exhibition address the tragic history of contact in the early 19th century between English settlers and the Beothuk of Newfoundland.

There are varying recorded accounts of the capture of the Beothuk woman Demasduit and the murder of her husband Nonosabasut at Red Indian Lake. Belmore’s video March 5, 1819 powerfully conjures the emotional trauma of this event, bringing it into the present day.

In Shanawdithit, the Last of the Beothuk, Belmore commemoratively evokes the woman’s presence (and absence) with haunting stone sculptures of her feet and hands, rounded as if worn by water, sensuously connecting her to the land from which she was taken.

The Great Water offers a broader allegory for the sweeping, traumatic changes born from Europeans’ journeys across the ocean separating them from the Americas. Belmore deftly manipulates and activates materials in visceral ways that elicit trauma and loss, but also course with currents of resistance and are starkly beautiful, engendering a sense of ambiguity, uncertainty and the uncanny.

The exhibition’s title What Is Said and What Is Done has multiple implications. A balanced phrase pivoting on “and,” it calls for a comparison between words and deeds. It also asserts the finality of what is past: the great water has been crossed, there has been much turbulence.

Eloquent works such as Belmore’s, however, can raise our awareness and encourage us to redirect our thinking, words and actions in the present day.

Curated by

Heather Anderson

Artists in the exhibition

Rebecca Belmore


Presented in partnership with the National Gallery of Canada’s Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art