Shelley Niro


Shelley Niro (Mohawk) is a multidisciplinary artist and filmmaker born in Niagara Falls, New York, and raised on the Six Nations Reserve, Turtle Clan, Bay of Quinte Mohawk. Her work challenges stereotypical images and clichés of Indigenous peoples, exploring themes of gender imbalance, cultural appropriation, and the importance of cultural influences. She received a diploma in performing arts from Cambrian College (1972), a BFA from the Ontario College of Art (1990), and an MFA from the University of Western Ontario (1997). Her filmmaking practice began after attending workshops at the Banff Centre for the Arts (2000). Niro’s work has been exhibited at museums, festivals, and galleries around the world, including the Venice Biennale, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Art Gallery of Ontario, Lincoln Center, Urban Shaman, Museum London, and the National Gallery of Canada, among many others. She is a fellow of the National Museum of American History (1997) and Eiteljorg Museum of Western Art (2001); a member of the Royal Academy of Arts; and is the recipient of the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts (2007); the Scotiabank Photography Award (2007); and the Paul de Hueck and Norman Walford Career Achievement Award (2020). Her work is in private and public collections around the world, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, Museum of Civilization, National Gallery of Canada, Art Windsor Essex, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, and the Everson Museum of Art. She lives and works in Brantford, Ontario.

ONLINE SCREENING DATES: January 9 – January 30, 2023

FILMS IN THIS PROGRAM: It Starts with a Whisper, 28 min, 1993 (co-directed with Anna Gronau); Honey Moccasin, 47 min, 1998; The Shirt, 6 min, 2003
This series is co-selected and presented with COUSIN collective and is generously funded by a Digital Now grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.

It Starts with a Whisper, 28 min, 1993

It Starts With a Whisper was produced in the Six Nations/Brantford area, with an all-Indigenous cast, and features locations on the Grand River which runs through the Six Nations Reserve. The film blends traditional Iroquois imagery, music, and themes with motifs from contemporary, secular life. Eighteen-year-old Shanna Sabbath, who has grown up on the Reserve, must now decide what path to follow in life. The choice between traditional and contemporary values seems impossible. She feels all alone, yet she is watched over by ancestral spirits—three “matriarchal clowns” who sometimes appear in the form of her outrageous aunts: Emily, Molly, and Pauline. The aunts take Shanna on a mythic journey to Niagara Falls. – CFMDC

This film is co-directed with Anna Gronau.

Honey Moccasin, 47 min, 1998

A groundbreaking, all-Native production, written and directed by Canadian artist Shelley Niro, Honey Moccasin is set on the fictional Grand Pine Indian Reservation (aka “Reservation X”). It employs a hybrid pastiche of styles that depicts the rivalry between two bars, the Smoking Moccasin and the Inukshuk Cafe. It’s also the tale of closeted drag queen/powwow clothing thief Zachery John (Billy Merasty), and the travails of the crusading investigator/storyteller Honey Moccasin (Tantoo Cardinal).

An irreverent parody of familiar narrative strategies, Honey Moccasin forges an oppositional aesthetic via its reappropriation of the conventions of melodrama, performance art, cable access, and a “whodunit” style to investigate notions of authenticity, cultural identity, gender roles, and the articulation of contemporary native North American experiences. – CFMDC

The Shirt, 6 min, 2003

Niro uses the unexpected language of the kitsch souvenir t-shirt to make a powerful statement about the lasting effects of colonization on Indigenous people as well as their continued exploitation. – Grace McCormick

Childhood has a lot of great memories. We lived on the Six Nations Reserve where there were plenty of empty fields and lots of trees. At the time, I didn’t give too much thought to being an artist, but now I feel I rely on those memories constantly: the sun beating down on my fresh young face, the winter winds almost knocking me over on my walk home from school, the sound of wind through the trees and birds singing. These memories have placed themselves within my brain. I can always go there. – Shelley Niro

Read the interview with Shelley Niro at the National Gallery of Canada.

Watch an interview with Shelley Niro at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Shelley Niro: Boundless is currently on view at Art Windsor Essex through February 19, 2023. Exhibition curated by Czarina Mendoza.

All stills, photographs, and artwork for It Starts with a Whisper (1993) and Honey Mocassin (1998) courtesy of CFMDC © Shelley Niro. Stills and artwork for The Shirt (2003) courtesy of Vtape © Shelley Niro. Screening co-presented with the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre (CFMDC), Art Windsor Essex (AWE), and Vtape