My Artist Date with Shelley Niro

The Mane Intent

Thank-you for your gift of inspiration Shelley Niro.”  Yesterday I treated myself to an artist date.

In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron describes the Artist Date as a regular or “weekly expedition to explore something that enchants or interests you.” She invites us to think of our “creative self as being an inner youngster.” It’s been over 20 years since I first picked up The Artist’s Way, but I still remember how morning pages and artists dates supported my need to ignite my own creative spark. It’s been a long time since I treated myself to an artist’s date.

February, 2019 has already been a difficult month. I’ve been craving a little creative recharge to get out of my head and reconnect with myself.  I took in an artist’s talk hosted by guest curator Lori Beavis with artist Shelley Niro at the Art Gallery of Peterborough.

The themes of Niro’s work and the current exhibition Shelley Niro: women, land, river resonated with me. As described by Beavis on the Gallery’s web site, “This exhibition brings together works which span the entirety of Niro’s practice and make connections between the on-going subjects and themes in Niro’s oeuvre – the women, the land and the river that she knows and loves well. The women are artist friends, her sisters, daughters, mother, granddaughter and members of her community. The land is the Niagara region, upper New York State and her home territory in southwestern Ontario, and the river is the Grand River which runs through the Six Nations’ territory.”

“Niro’s representation of the land and the river is directly related to her feminine point of view; land and river link to her family history, to her parents, her ancestors and her culture.  Niro’s representations of the landscape are imbued with her awareness of the constructed or colonized spaces that Indigenous people experience,” Beavis says, adding: “The land and waterways she depicts have physically changed as they have changed hands over time. Niro recognizes these changes through her relationship with the landscape; the land is a sacred space and one that cannot be sold or divided up.”

Shelley Niro is a member of the Turtle Clan of the Kanien’kehaka Nation. She was born in Niagara Falls, New York and grew up on Six Nations Territory in south-western Ontario. She has established her place in Canadian art as a multi-media artist with a strong practice in traditional and contemporary media, moving between painting, sculpture, beadwork, installation, photography and film with ease. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards including the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts (2017), the Scotiabank Photography Award (2017), and the Ontario Arts Council Indigenous Arts Award (2012) and exhibitions in prominent institutions across the globe including the Venice Bienniale (2003), and the Sundance Film Festival (2004).

Niro is also noted for her photographs using herself and female family members cast in contemporary positions to challenge the stereotypes and clichés of Native American women. In a write-up to describe the exhibition, Beavis notes that Niro wants to make work that people see and respond to in some personal and transformative way.

In Niro’s words: “Art opens up a door or a window and it lets you go to place you wouldn’t even think you wanted to go. And through art, you learn that you can go in any direction.”

I enjoyed hearing Niro describe her journey in her own words, sprinkled with a quiet sense of humour, as she noted the women who define her community, the land that inspires her work, and the river, the Grand River, that flows through her history. She reminded me that I am also surrounded by women who define my own community, women who have also inspired and shaped my personal creative journey – my grandmothers, my mother, my sisters, daughters and friends.  I am grateful for all of them.

I found myself smiling in recognition when Niro also shared her experience at Durham College early in her career. She took a photography course with an instructor who introduced her to the power of the lens and to the art of black and white photography.  I too was a student of Durham College at that time. I remember that instructor (although I wish I could remember his name)! It was my introduction to photography and a course that taught me to play with the shades of black and white that emerged in the silence of the dark room. I learned to appreciate the beauty of life from behind the lens. I still do.

You can catch a screening of Niro’s film “Kissed by Lightening” Thursday, February 21 from 7 – 9 p.m. at the Art Gallery of Peterborough.

About the Author:

Jennifer Garland is the Owner/Program Director of The Mane Intent, offering Health and Wellness Workshops and Individual and Team Effectiveness Coaching. Jennifer’s intent is to bring horses and humans together to explore new possibilities, getting you out of your comfort zone and giving clarity of voice to your leader within. She has over 25 years of leadership experience in communications, cause-related marketing and change management. As a strategist, facilitator and effectiveness coach, Jennifer has provided counsel and support to senior leaders from all walks of life to build productive relationships, facilitate learning and to embrace change. She is a ‘socialpreneur’ who values the art of living life fully with intent.