Our latest Artist You Need to Know is Shelley Niro. She’s a member of the Six Nations Reserve, Bay of Quinte Kanien’kehaka (Mohawk) Nation, Turtle Clan. Employing such diverse media as photography, painting, sculpture and film, Niro’s art often uses humour to address the challenges faced in contemporary Indigenous North American society. Parody and appropriation are tools Niro skillfully utilizes to question and challenge stereotypical images of Aboriginal peoples, and women in particular.
Niro is very erudite in expressing this idea: “Some people think that to be Indian, you have to do certain things, but I’m saying that you’re Indian no matter what you do, but you have to decide what you want to do and you have to ask questions, like, am I doing something because it’s expected of me to do, or am I doing it because I really believe this and it’s really a part of me. So I’m always questioning that, saying, “Am I being truthful to myself? How much a part of what I do is part of my psychology?” Many of her works feature herself, or her friends and family as subjects in order to celebrate and highlight the resiliency and individuality of the Indigenous women surrounding her.
Niro graduated from the Ontario College of Art, and later earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Western Ontario. Her art is in the collections of the Canada Council Art Bank; Canadian Museum of Civilization, Quebec; the National Gallery of Canada; the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography; the Portrait Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; the Rockwell Museum of Western Art, Corning, New York; the University of Seattle Library; and the National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, DC. Niro has also released and directed a number of critically-acclaimed feature length films, including Kissed by Lightning and The Incredible 25th Year of Mitzi Bearclaw.
She debuted her video work The Shirt, at the Venice Biennale in 2003. In 2012, Niro was the inaugural recipient of the Aboriginal Arts Award presented through the Ontario Arts Council and in 2017 she was awarded both the Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts and the Scotiabank Photography Award. More recently, in March 2020 she was recognized with the Paul de Hueck and Norman Walford Career Achievement Award, bestowed annually by the Ontario Arts Foundation.
This is a very brief overview of Niro’s art, and much more about her and her practice can be learned here (at a feature from Scotiabank) and here (from the Art Gallery of Ontario). Many more of Niro’s images (both moving and still) can be seen here, at her site, including an extensive archive of her photography and several clips of her feature films. Several links within this article lead out to video biographies of Niro, that we encourage you to watch.