Engage in an interpretive conversation about a work of art.
Interpreting a work of art involves uncovering the choices that the artist made when creating the artwork and making meaning of those choices through the lens of one’s own experience. Follow the steps below to prompt an interpretive conversation about artist (No. 2) by the contemporary artist Rebecca Belmore, who addresses the politics of Indigenous representation, voice, and identity through her multimedia art practice.
- Look silently at the artwork for one minute, noticing details that stand out to you.
- Describe what you see.
- Discuss what is going on in the artwork. Explore the associations, emotions, and ideas that it evokes. Consider what you see in the artwork that shapes your response.
- Read the artwork’s object label to learn its cultural and historical context:
Over the past thirty years Rebecca Belmore has addressed the politics of Indigenous representation, voice, and identity through sculptures, installations, videos, photographs, and performances. In this performative self-portrait, the artist, a member of the Lac Seul First Nation (Anishinaabe), stands with her back to the camera, wearing a bright-orange surveyor’s work jacket and pants. The fluorescent X of the jacket demarcates her torso against a huge orange tarp that covers a construction site in Winnipeg. The uniform she wears identifies the artist as a worker, but it also serves a political function. When signing land treaties with the British colonial government, Indigenous leaders often marked their names with an X. In wearing this highly visible sign in the changing Canadian cityscape, Belmore asserts her presence as both marker and maker, whose role, as she describes it, is to confront a barrier or obstacle: “For decades I have been working as the artist amongst my people, calling to the past, witnessing the present, standing forward, facing the monumental.”
- Think about and discuss how this new information expands your initial interpretations. Consider how your reactions and ideas are informed by your own experiences as well as the choices that the artist made when creating the artwork.
Try Art Talk with a group and consider how the connections and divergences in your perspectives may lead to multiple interpretations of the artwork. Or complete the steps as an independent writing activity.
Art Talk can be done with any work of art—explore the collection and try this activity with an artwork that speaks to you!