Marble Tent

Biinjiya’iing Onji (From inside) by Rebecca Belmore

Constructed out of local materials–marble–and installed next to the most iconic architectural feature of the Athenian cityscape, Rebecca Belmore’s Biinjiya’iing Onji (From inside), was one of the artworks exhibited during Documenta 14 (2017). Belmore hand carved a hyperrealistic tent—in this context, instantly recognisable as a symbol for refugees, since it is often their accommodation on the island hotspots and in mainland camps. As the refugee crisis becomes “a state of perpetual emergency,” the “makeshift retreat” of the tent becomes a shelter in the regime of waiting that characterises displaced lives who have sought international protection in hostile political communities. Yet, as Belmore explains, “[t]he shape of the tent is, for me, reminiscent of the wigwam dwellings that are part of my history as an Indigenous person,” Belmore explains: “Wigwams (wiigiwaam in Anishinaabemowin), traditionally constructed of bentwood of young trees and covered with birch bark, are a rather ingenious solution for building with the materials available at hand,” enabling nomadic people “to make their home wherever necessary.” 

The obvious contrast between the form–a tent–and the material out of which it is constructed–marble–raises questions about how what is meant to offer temporary protection or shelter on the move, becomes physically emplaced, static, and stuck: a permanent condition, as immobile and as heavy as the marble itself. At the Moria hotspot and the camp surrounding it, where such tents are pitched, not for days or weeks, but for months and years, they are a testament to the struggle for survival in adverse conditions of winter weather and political indifference and cynicism.


Myrto Tsilimpounidi



Documenta 14: Rebecca Belmore’s Biinjiya’iing Onji (From inside, 2017) Marble (140 × 200 × 200 cm)

Photos by Scott Benesiinaabandan