Shelley Niro’s uniquely crafted visual language has led us on a journey that crosses many paths. Masterfully juggling subtle and certainly provocative images, she determinately triggers senses and stirs memory to uncover and recover inspirational narratives that centres her fulfillment of being a “Mohawk girl.” The stories are universal, but often have two sides. These parallel divisions draw from the negotiated Kahswentha treaty that subscribes to equity, sovereignty, and respect. Niro reflects on both sides to counter the erasure of identity, and shines a light on the stories the land holds. She explains, “I use my knowledge as extensively as I can. There is poetry in recognizing designs, symbols, and I feel it continues on the journey of ancestors who have invented these symbols from days gone by. Hiawatha was an artist who used his skills to deliver the Great Law. The creation story is powerful, and the ancients liked cinema as much as we do.” Her ability to poke and prod is upfront and bold because it forces us to look, and to look again. The stage she sets is performed with both humour and tragedy to shift the subjective lens that women and Onkwehón:we have endured.
Excerpted from “Taiakoia’tenhátie / / freefall: The photography of Shelley Niro,” in Shelley Niro: Scotiabank Photography Award (Toronto—Göttingen: Scotiabank Photography Award—Steidl, 2018)
The Scotiabank Photography Award is the largest peer-reviewed photographic art award in Canada, recognizing an established artist working in the medium. Shelley Niro is a member of the Six Nations Reserve, Bay of Quinte Mohawk, Turtle Clan. She uses photography, painting, beadwork, installation, and video to redefine contemporary Indigenous experience and identity. This survey exhibition celebrates Niro’s career, and includes more than 70 objects, spanning from 1991 to 2017, featuring seminal works and never-before-shown photographs, along with some of the artist’s recent projects. The accompanying book also presents a coherent overview of Niro’s work, and both the exhibition and the book serve as prestigious acknowledgements of her outstanding contribution to the field.
Presented by Scotiabank, organized and presented in partnership with the Ryerson Image Centre
Curated by Gaëlle Morel