Artist as Activist

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Blood on the Snow
installation, quilt, snowy field, fabric, quilted fabric, blood, bleeding, chair, Battle at Wounded Knee, memorial, installation space, grave marker, meaning, sewing, quilting, Chief Big Foot, memorial, illusion, security blanket, false security, death, control, vigil, war and remembrance, , blood, snow, installation, quilt, fabric, chair, memorial, death, struggle,
start quoteMy way of working is largely based on immediate
experience.end quote-- Rebecca Belmore

Blood on the Snow is a work that often startles viewers. People are surprised because when they enter the space of the installation, they encounter a large, pillowy quilt--a snowy field of fabric that covers the floor. It looks fresh, untouched and precious, for although it is on the floor, it has not been walked on. And it’s very large, half-filling its exhibition space when it was on display at the Mendel Art Gallery.

The soft, white fabric is inviting, comforting. But in the middle of the snowy “field” of the quilted fabric there sits a chair. In fact, the chair has been sewn into the quilt, such that it, too, appears to be as snow-covered as the rest of the gallery or exhibiting space. And at the top of the chair the snow is red, either as though the chair is bleeding upwards from under the fabric, or as though it has been dipped upwards into a pool of blood.

Rebecca Belmore has provided us with only a few ingredients in her installation, but these are enough to piece together her meaning. Saskatoon artist and critic Bart Gazzola explains that this work acts as a memorial for the victims of the slaughter at Wounded Knee. He explains,

Chief Big Foot and his people were left overnight, in a blizzard, and many of the bodies were frozen into  grotesqueSomething having a fantastically distorted appearance. Also, a style of painting, sculpture, and ornamentation used in antiquity in which natural forms and distorted figures are intertwined in bizarre or fanciful combinations, consisting of representations of medallions, sphinxes, foliage, and imaginary creatures. The grotesque is a powerful aesthetic category that combines ugliness and ornament, the bizarre and the ridiculous, the excessive and the unreal.  (  representations of suffering when soldiers finally returned to dispose of their work. This slaughter happened in late December, and when the survivors were taken from the field they were placed in a church so they could die under the Christmas banner declaring, “peace on earth. (Gazzola, 2007)

snow field picture

The  illusionA deceptive or misleading image or idea. (  of a snowy field suggests location, place, season, and therefore struggle and suffering. The fabric that makes up that illusion implies stillness, a false security, the white pallor of death, and the blanketing or covering up of the unthinkable. And the chair, quiet and perfectly centred, is control, a gravestone in a field, hinting that this work holds a vigil of its own.

additional resources Things to Think About

Blood on the Snow

  • Because Blood on the Snow is a work of art, viewers are not allowed to walk on the quilted field of snow--what does this suggest? What might the fact that we cannot get close to the chair and the blood mean?
  • What else might the image of a chair represent?
  • What else might the white blanket represent? The title suggests snow, but are there other interpretations? The title also implies that the red is blood, but are there other interpretations for the use of red in this work? How might readings of redness and whiteness relate to each other?



Studio Activity
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Blood on the Snow

Rebecca Belmore’s work Blood on the Snow is a sculptural  installationAn art work specially designed to fit in or to make use of a specific type of space. It usually consists of more than one element and relates to the space in which it is displayed.  piece. This political and socially charged piece refers to the 1890 massacre of 300 Sioux people at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota as well as to the missing and murdered women of Vancouver’s downtown eastside. Belmore’s work serves as a memorial. The act of remembering is an important part of the piece.

For more information about the massacre at Wounded Knee, go to:

For more information about the murdered Aboriginal women in Vancouver, go to:


Create a sculptural installation that represents a person, or a social or political occurrence that you feel people should remember


  • Research your topic.
  • Search for or make objects that can represent the people and place involved in your topic. Consider items that have a close association with the human form; these items, such as the chair in Belmore’s piece, can be a powerful  symbolVisual image that represents something else.  for the absence of a person or people.  Clothing, shoes or other personal items such as a suitcase are other examples you may consider.
  • Think about the space you wish to use for the installation. The space used can be an important part of the work’s meaning. It could be a site-specific work. (see for more on site specific work)
  • Think about how to create visual impact. Consider the visual impact of the red colour on the pristine white fabric in Belmore’s work.
  • Consider the kind of lighting that will best work for your installation. Do you want it to be high or low, natural or dramatic?

To see more Rebecca Bellmore installations go to:


Baird, Daniel. ‘Trauma Mama.’ The Walrus, June, 2005. Retrieved from the Internet on October 20, 2008 from:

Bradley, Jessica. ‘Rebecca Belmore: Art and the Object of Performance.’ In Caught in the Act: An Anthology of  PerformanceAn art form in which the actions of a person or group in a particular place at a particular time constitute the artwork; all works of performance art therefore incorporate time, space, the performer’s body, and the relationship between performer and viewer.  Art by Canadian Women. Tanya Mars and Johanna Householder, eds. Toronto: YYZ Books, 2004.

Gazzola, Bart. ‘A History of Violence.’ Planet S: Saskatoon’s City Magazine, February 15, 2007. Retrieved from the Internet on October 20, 2008 from:

Williams, Megan. ‘Painting the Town Red.’, Arts – Art and Design, June 10, 2005. Retrieved from the Internet on October 20, 2008 from:

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning