I recently read an article in the Native Studies Review by Christi Belcourt entitled "Purpose in Art, Métis Identity and Moving Beyond the Self". I knew of Belcourt as an artist and her writing was a continuum of her other work. In this essay she works through the nature of art as a reflection of ourselves and in this case, as a reflection of a Métis person. She speaks of the continued use of historical references in the work of Métis artists as "...a means of reclaiming of one's own personal history" and that "... it all adds up to a reclaiming of our collective history" while "...defining and proclaiming what it means to be Métis in the twentieth-first century."
I have struggled with this use of references myself and where the line is between plagiarism and deeper reflections of cultural symbols. As it is still so new to me, I am building up my cultural symbols as I learn about new artists. I am building up a whole, but the whole is still very discernible as to the parts. I don't want to take anything away from the work of others, but their inspiration pulls me to new places. Her articulation of these interconnected threads provides a partial answer to these concerns.
Belcourt speaks about the use of a beadwork style in her paintings and the multiple roles this stylistic choice plays in her art as "a proliferation of all things Métis...joined with others in the nation to work to raise awareness and to strengthen our collective voice." She uses it to infer a sense of history and to "celebrate the beauty within our culture" as well as to show that it is a living history. She notes that she also sees it as a dialogue with the ancestors, telling them "you don't have to worry any more. Our struggle is not as dire. We have survived and we are celebrating ourselves even if Canada is not."
I find these words resonate with me as I do my bead work. A part of me hates it. It is so fiddly and slow - it is not me. But I keep doing it. I finish a project and start another. I find meditating with a line of women who came before me. I am inhabiting my culture. I am slowed. The whole world is in the piece. I can make a thousand different beads into something beautiful and whole.
Belcourt asks herself if she contributes as an artist or is art inherently selfish as it is what she is called to do. Do we need to accomplish something more or can the act of creation be enough in itself? She responds that the act is enough, but that there might be a need for more from a deeper part of herself that is connected to a culture and a peoples and that while her art is part of her path to answer the question of who she is as a person, she can also be contributing to the larger dialogue of who we are as a people and as a culture that survives and is dynamic. For myself, I can say her art has been a big part of building up that whole and thinking about what it means to be a modern Métis.
The last paragraph of the essay is a quote from her friend Jean Teillet "The only thing worth doing is to fully search out truth and knowledge. In whatever field you are in, go as far as you can to feel out what it truth. And I think you know it when you hit it, it rings inside you." What rings inside me as I create is the tension of my path to remain in balance, in the middle of the circle. Fast can be good, but not always. I matter, but I am part of something more. Life is hard, but there is beauty. I can teach, but I must learn.
I appreciated this essay on a lot of levels and I am excited that I am part of the dialogue in a small way as I create my things. While I wish I could sit down with the author and talk to her, I feel so blessed that people are opening their minds and hearts and sharing their knowledge in these ways. We may not be able to live in physical community as urban Métis, but I feel as thought we can still be in community. Many thanks to those who share.