Shelley Niro, visual artist and 2017 Canada Council laureate – a film by Karen Chapman

Shelley Niro, visual artist and 2017 Canada Council laureate – a film by Karen Chapman


I can’t see myself doing
anything else but making art. It’s such a deep need
to create. My art journey
began living on the reserve. I was surrounded by people
who did a lot of beadwork, soap stone carving,
baskets, stuff they did
with bark on trees. I always felt like
I was surrounded by people who could do that sort of art. I remember one instance I would
paint stuff that my father couldn’t really understand,
or really relate to, but he would say, “Maybe you could put
a turtle in there somewhere,” because he wanted it
to be native art. I’ve always rejected
that because I thought: I’m a native person doing art, so my nativeness is contained
within that piece. I think that as an artist,
you have to keep trying to break barriers – not huge
ones, but just little barriers, sometimes
within your own community. There’s a piece I made for
the Woodland Cultural Centre, and it’s outside. They wanted
an outdoor installation. It’s on the same site
as the residential school. I just think
if only they were here (the ones that
aren’t here any longer). I’m hoping that
they would enjoy this piece. I’ve always been aware
that native women were never really included
in the mass media. There was always
the sort of clichéd version of what an
Indian woman would look like. As I started working
on photographs especially, I started putting
my sisters in the work. Seeing people I know and love,
and being able to put them in my work has been
such a privileged reward because to me
film is such an excellent way of archiving people and I’ve
watched films from Hollywood thinking wow
their faces are there forever. I really love especially
film showing at communities and seeing the reaction of
little girls, we just love it. They come up to me and
they want to be a part of it. And I keep thinking
that’s who I’m making this for. For me, that’s the best.

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