Critique the Collection vol.2: Ostoro Petahtegoose

Response to Rebecca Belmore's "untitled (a blanket for Sarah)" by Ostoro Petahtegoose 

Listen HERE 

fingers are weaving in and out
in and out
in and out

in and out

needle after needle

in and out in and out in and out in and out

did fingers bleed as

each needle wove into this tapestry

this bed this blanket



not the first nor last

one lost beneath a pine tree on a bed of snow
and dormant humus

life breathed out into the needles now

in and out in and out in and out in and out

did fingers bleed or chafe

or skin break


think about what if my warm bed had been
a bed of white snow, needles and humus
while the whole world slept in warm, soft places knowing they will wake up to food and
the worlds care

were questions asked
or statements made to self while fingers
weaved in and out
in and out
in and out
in and out
in and out

how many lives how many slept and
no one

not one wept

as soft, lonesome exhales were lost across the drifts of snow

in and out in and out in and out in and out

what warmth could this blanket of needles bring against the hardened chill of winters depth

Zhngwaakoons give gifts



was not one

not one only one

but many woven

breathes bodies needles


in and out in and out in and out in and out

Piecemeal blanket unreachable
under white light glare

fingers weaving

in and out in and out in and out in and out

how can I
standing here separate from these

(​g[r]asping breathes)​ needles


and alive

fingers weaving

in and out in and out in and out in and out

Reflections on “untitled (a blanket for Sarah) by Rebecca Belmore

Rebecca Belmores “untitled (a blanket for Sarah)” is a quiet piece that rewards and requires patience and reflection. Belmore takes pine needles from their sites of origin and builds them into a woven tapestry, to then be set against the harsh, minimal backdrop of a gallery. This speaks to many things for me as an Indigenous person in Canada. Not only is "care" turned into something that can only be accessed through institutions and churned out for profit, but so are the stories of marginalized people that feed works such as this into gallery spaces. We are forced to turn these stories into ways that we can gain financially from as a form of survival and sometimes as a way to express our anger and pain through "respectable" means. These stories are devoured by the hunger of people who have and never will experience anything remotely close to the topics that people like Belmore speak on - the anger and sense of injustice isn't personal, but rather an abstract concept to gawk at. The experiences of being targeted, of the apathy and displeasure that is aimed at the existence of the ​other*​ means not just being able to read the bitter irony of blankets made of pine needles; but also the bitter irony of such blankets – and the care, time and effort that went into weaving it – being placed into buildings and systems that are unreachable to the marginalized and targeted individuals and communities. Blankets can only serve their functions within an arms distance, and ​in homage​ is just another phrase for ​too late.​ Too late to distribute the resources the woman who froze to death needed to save her life; too late bring her into the warmth; too late to have shown her the care she needed to ensure she lived.

From afar, in a picture through an online gallery, the multiple numbers of pine needles creates an impression of soft cushioning - something that I may want to run my hands through and my face against. However up close I would be forced to see the fragility and brittleness of the needles and how - as time progressed and dried them - they may break or fall out under a hand pressing against them. I wonder how many are lost from these pieces as time decays them. Up close I would be forced to see the individual needles: not as a blended whole but rather as a piece made of small, individual needles. Standing from afar with the geography, buildings and systems acting as barriers between us, it echoes the subjects of poverty; homelessness; starvation; and the unnecessary deaths the results from the ways we deprive people of resources that could be made accessible to them. It is easy to get lost in a bigger picture that is blurred through the lenses of whoever is taking the photographs; however this content is made accessible; and under what circumstances. It is easy to turn the experiences and suffering of people into an intellectual and academic exercise, so that we can remain separate and detached from these issues. Up close however, without the barriers of technology, geography, buildings or systems, when you can look at it in person up close where we can build a relationship to this piece, it becomes more personal. We are forced to see the real and human cost of these issues, we are forced to reckon with the multitudes of people lost - and who continue to be lost in these ways. Up close and personal, we are able to recognize the humanity of the person lost. It is harder to turn the issue into an intellectual exercise when the person that we as a collective have failed, who is forced to die in the harsh conditions of winter is looking straight at us. It's needless, and we are to blame.

Looking at this piece I find myself asking questions. Would I be content to warm myself under a picture of a blanket of pine needles, if I can have real, material blankets of wool, cotton or polyester blends? Would I piece my blankets into squares to hang on gallery walls, where many barriers exist that means only getting to perceive it in pictures, if I could have them on my bed? Even if I were to have a material blanket made of pine needles, would I... could I be content with the warmth and comfort it brings? Or would I immediately see it as the useless object it was made to be?

“untitled (a blanket for Sarah)” charges us all for the continued unwillingness to change the circumstances of our most vulnerable, and the ways that we condemn to death people like the woman who died of exposure in Sioux Lookout, Ontario. We might as well be weaving blankets of pine needles to hang on walls for all the good that we do, when they continue to die of entirely preventable circumstances and when we continue to not act on their behalf.

History repeats itself, just as Belmore repeatedly wove the pine needles into this tapestry.

* The concept of the "Other" was first coined by Simone de Beauvoir as a way to name and examine the ways that men oppress women through the definition of "women" as a category, in opposition to "men." "Women" are objects in this definition rather than subjects, while men were the subjects or "self." This term and the discourses around this concept has grown to encompass any marginalized group that is defined in opposition to an assumed "default." For more readings, I highly suggest visiting a publication and forum site "Othering and Belonging" by the "Othering and Belonging Institute" through UC Berkeley which focuses on the varying aspects of this topic.

February 7, 2021 Ostoro Petahtegoose

Ostoro Petahtegoose is a biracial, Nishinaabe of Atikamkesheng Anishnawbek. They are an Indigiqueer, transgender, nonbinary writer, Goldsmith and multi-media artist, born and raised in Windsor, On. They are attending the University of Windsor to finish their English and Creative Writing and Visual Arts BA and was granted the Arts, Culture and Heritage Fund in 2018 by the City of Windsor for research for a sculptural project titled “Deracinated.” They continue to work at finding meaningful ways to connect back to their Indigenous identity and seek to learn their cultural language Nishinaabemwin while being obsessed with themes of hauntings, ghosts and land.

Response to Rebecca BelmoreResponse to Rebecca Belmore's Untitled (A Blanket For Sarah) by Ostoro Petahtegoose