by Brandi Morin
(AJNews) – Renowned Metis/Cree artist Christi Belcourt, originally from Alberta now living in Anishinaabe territory in Northern Ontario, is the April feature artist of the month for Alberta Native News.
Her piece, “The Crow Taught her. She listened,” features a masked, green skinned woman, with long, black hair holding a crow on her hand against a psychedelic looking background of abstract colors and shapes. It’s visually striking, like all of her intricate work – but it’s disturbingly jarring too.
The woman wearing a red bandanna over her nose and mouth protecting herself from the elements and the threat of a pandemic speaks to the crisis the world is in.
“There’s a greater mystery that’s happening here that we don’t understand,” explained Belcourt during a Zoom interview with journalist Brandi Morin. “Which is spiritual…we’re not listening to the earth or animals. Remember the whole earth is one, living, breathing, life and spirit.”
Belcourt’s work has been featured in Italian designer Valentino’s fashion line and Holt Renfrew – her famous Metis themed floral/nature patterns are showcased in the National Art Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario, just to note a few.
She designed competition medals for the 2015 Pan American Games and the list of her accomplishments is extensive.
Belcourt is also an advocate for Indigenous rights. Perhaps most dear to her heart is creating awareness about issues facing the earth like climate change and injustice addressing it via an Indigenous perspective.
She said humanity’s negative impacts on the earth such as resource extraction partnered with selfishness and greed all play a part in igniting a pandemic or climate change.
“The overconsumption by humanity on earth, and greed – we’re always, as a species, very greedy and we are right now. There’s a few exceptions of people who are giving, kind people, yes. But that’s not the majority. Our whole economy is based on ‘I have a right to consume this material good’,” she explained.
And when those rights are challenged, as currently during the COVID19 pandemic with businesses being closed other than those offering essentials, chaos erupts.
“People protesting to open it all up-who cares if people die? That’s a really wack way of looking at the world,” she said.
Belcourt encourages people to counteract the chaos with standing up for “things that are right.”
She applied this mindset into her art at a young age when she began studying the earth and hanging out with elders who taught her about the land.
“Once you sit on the ground and you hold a leaf in your hand, and you’re looking at this plant with a mind to study how it looks. All of a sudden you’re seeing other things, you start to hear the insects flying around. You see fine, white hairs on each stem. And spider webs. Insects on every plant. You realize how interconnected everything is and you as a human being are really small in the grand scheme of things.”
In 2014 Belcourt co-founded the Onaman Collective, a land based art initiative incorporating traditional knowledge, youth, elders and Anishnaabemowin and Cree languages. The camp community is located in rural Northern Ontario where Belcourt is isolated along with a small group of friends. She’s spending most of her time learning Anishnaabemowin and continuing her advocacy work through social media.
Belcourt’s advice about life is to take a leap towards what’s calling you from your heart. Based on a dream she had of standing by a large lake on the edge of a shore, “I don’t want to stand on the shore of my life looking at that lake and never going in – I want to take the leap. You should too.”