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Shelley Niro is a member of the 6 Nations Reserve; Mohawk in the Turtle Clan. She was born in Niagra Falls, New york, in the year 1954. Niro currently resides in Brantford, Ontario. She has already graduated from Ontario College with honors in visual art. She also received her MFA from Western Ontario University.

Analysis of Shelley Niro’s artwork

In the Blanket, the theme takes the form of a horizontal strip (a band) form a Hudson’s Bay blanket, which appears next to a partial portrait of Jackie Traverse (artist). Behind the subject, there is a pale image of water, which seems to be stacked with bands of white, yellow, black and red. In Ancestor, skywoman has a translucent solar flare in the background. The border contains four moons and other celestial bodies. The skywoman seems to be portrayed as a contemporary woman. She wears cosmetics, a sparkly top and heels. In finding her helpers, there exists a manipulated picture of Niagara Falls. This image accompanies the portrait of Naoga Blackey (the artist’s daughter), a massage therapist and the mother.

In Never Ending Horizon, it features an image of artist Lori Blondeau with images of four buffalos below her. Between Blondeau and the buffalo, there exists an image of an older woman standing next to a horse. Routes show Jacquie Carpenter, a woman from Attawapiskat Reserve, above the image of a canoe. The space behind her has an image of water. The background image is an aerial shot of highways next to Toronto International Airport. Legacy shows an inverted landscape with a lone tree which appears above the head of Skywoman. Beneath the woman, lies an extended barren terrain. In Bagging, there exists a self-portrait of the artist. Niro stands with her arms akimbo while staring at the viewer. The landscape behind her shows tiny longhouses. It features body bags that surround Niro.

In Land of Opportunities, The artist’s niece, Paula, smiles brightly as she stands before a Grand River backdrop. There exists a small image of a dancer, with the arms stretched out and ready to dance. In the Essential Sensuality of Ceremony, two young people, a man and a woman, got portrayed in a black and white image. The woman ‘speaks’ into the ear of the man, and in another picture, she feeds him. In Beginnings, the skywoman stands in front of water with an outline of a celestial tree appearing on her left. Strands of DNA exist above and below her.

In the Blanket, the inclusion of water shows the poor quality water found in Canadian reservoirs. The Hudson’s Bay blanket references the ‘gifting’ of smallpox-infected blankets given to First Nations during the 100s to weaken these populations.  In the Ancestors, the Skywoman depicts her role as an earth- mother figure. It emphasizes the importance of remaining grounded with nature. Her contemporary appearance eludes humor but also links the First Nations’ culture with the present.

Finding Her Helpers illustrates the fall’s ties to skywoman. It also shows its importance in Iroquoian history. In Never Ending Horizon, the four buffalos represent Blondeau’s four children. The artist posits Blondeau as the modern version of the older woman. Teepees and the buffalo represent the vestiges of First Nations. The image of water and a canoe in Routes represent the controversial James Bay project. It shows exploitation of natural resources. Legacy is the continuation of representation of natural resource exploitation. The body bags in Bagging It reference the forwarding dozens of body bags to reserves, during the H1N1 vaccination. Niro seems to be accompanied by animal helpers in the form of birds and a dog, to show that she stands in resistance against environmental and psychological warfare. The birds have evolved into airplanes (Nicholson 39).

In the Land Of opportunity, the tiny image of a dancer next to Paula exhibits the uninhibited and expressive nature of youth. The DNA in Beginnings is a nod to the ancestral ties and primarily for the similarity to wampum. There exists essence of care, which emanates from the images in The Essential Sensuality of ceremony. The actions convey healing and intimacy. They also attest to the continuation of First Nations culture. In having a woman in the picture, it elevates the position of women in Mohawk communities and draws attention to contributions of women.

Niro uses self- portraits. She uses her own image to express critique, emotion and anger at the ongoing reality. She depicts the Native people in Canada while referencing their day to day struggles that they have to face. Using herself as the subject in her art work, she portrays her innermost feelings as her personal space got impeded by actual happenings. She refers to sufferings such as Drug abuse, systemic racism, children abuse, genocides, suicide rates, child abuse, and H1N1 epidemic. Through her work, Niro wishes to confront, internalize and show the sufferings of the Native people (Nicholson 67)

I agree with the interpretations above. They all depict the hidden meaning in those images. The initial impression changes after spending time with the images. An observer gets deeper meaning of the portraits, and it is impressive.


Niro’s work can be found in the Canadian Museum of Civilization; National Gallery of Canada; Rockwell Museum of Western Art; Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography and the National Museum of the American Indian.

Niro is a multidisciplinary artist. Her works are painting, printmaking, installation and film. Her main medium of choice is photography. Niro uses her medium in a way that eludes and displaces violence of earlier photography applications to Fist Nations. Most of Niro’s photographs are made using a large format camera. The photos then are printed as murals.

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