Anishnaabe artist Rebecca Belmore performed her new work WORTH (– Statement of Defence) outside the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG). A small audience of artists and curious onlookers gathered as witnesses to the performance. (Belmore also donated an earlier work, Wild, (2001) to the VAG.)
‘Witness’ is appropriate in this context, as is the setting of the VAG, a former courthouse building. The performance and the video memorializing it, are Belmore’s response to law suits filed in the Ontario courts involving her former art dealer, Pari Nadimi ofToronto. The work demonstrates the artist’s public commitment to vigorously defending herself, her art practice and more broadly, the rights of all artists against those who seek to exploit them.
WORTH (– Statement of Defence), may be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cv9DfVAzok4
Belmore is an acclaimed artist with an international reputation. She has practised in various media, including performance, sculpture, video and photography for over 20 years. Her work has been featured in numerous exhibitions nationally and internationally since the 1980s, most notably, representing Canada at the biennials held in Venice, Sydney and Havana. She also holds an honorary doctorate from the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD). In spite of the artist’s significant and broadly-recognized contributions to contemporary art practice, this ongoing litigation, threatens Belmore’s future.
WORTH (– Statement of Defence), which features the sign, “I AM WORTH MORE THAN ONE MILLION DOLLARS TO MY PEOPLE,” speaks directly to the value of artists and art production in the 21st Century. The sign also references the amount of ‘damages’ being claimed by Pari Nadimi, an amount the dealer claims she has ‘invested’ in Belmore’s career. Nadimi’s allegations are unproven.
The legal battle began over 4 years ago, when Belmore, after deciding to leave the Pari Nadimi Gallery, requested the return of her artworks, related documentation and the payment (and an accounting) for artwork sold by the dealer. These basic, legal rights are still being violated. Belmore recognizes the importance of the case for herself and others: “If Pari Nadimi is successful in this claim against me, it would mean no artist would ever be free to choose to leave. Artists would be slaves to their galleries. This is a horrible precedent.”
Litigation is expensive. Belmore needs to raise funds to travel to Toronto and to continue to defend herself in this action. While claiming to be impecunious and unable to pay, Nadimi has hired a top Bay Street law firm, Heenan Blaikie. Ironically, the firm’s founder, Roy Heenan, has been a consistent supporter of Canadian art.
WORTH (– Statement of Defence), is therefore an appeal to the public to defend and support “the Artist” and the rights of artists to decide how and where their work is presented. Organizations such as CARFAC < http://www.carfac.ca/> and others do valuable work to create conditions to ensure rights are protected and respected. However, they lack the mandate and resources to support individual artists in these cases.