In The Making

Shelley Niro: 'I didn't want to follow the stereotypical journey of an Indigenous artist'

Niro's paintings, photography and films challenge representations of Indigenous women in Canadian culture.

Niro's paintings, photography and films challenge representations of Indigenous women in Canadian culture

(CBC Arts)

It's been a huge year for Shelley Niro. After working tirelessly for more than three decades, in 2017 the Mohawk artist won a Governor General's Award and the prestigious Scotiabank Photography Award. She's finally receiving the wide recognition she deserves — but she's always been influential and, many would say, ahead of her time. 

Niro's paintings, photography and films challenge representations of Indigenous women in Canadian culture, and she often uses herself and her family as her subjects. Her images are powerful and provocative, and they're frequently delivered with a sly sense of humour. In this clip from Niro's episode of In the Making, she speaks about avoiding the "stereotypical journey of an Indigenous artist" and creating work that feels contemporary and representative of non-stereotypical ideas of Indigenous women.

Watch the clip:

Niro doesn't want to follow the stereotypical path of an Indigenous artist and focuses on creating the unexpected. 1:43

"I did take photos at pow wows but I didn't want to just stay with those kinds of images," Niro tells In the Making host Sean O'Neill. "I didn't want to say, 'Oh yeah, that's Native art.'"

"I was more interested in work that would not necessarily be seen as Native art, although it was from a Native artist's perspective."​

Niro portrays her family and herself in her work often. She tells O'Neill this is all part of her "initial thesis" on the representation of Indigenous women. "You know, people expect Native women — I don't know so much about Native men, but they expect a certain kind of look there. You have to be thin and beautiful, long black hair, and you have to carry this kind of...regal bearing."

"That's fine, but I think there's so many other people who don't necessarily follow that."

Stream Shelly Niro's episode of In the Making now or watch it on CBC TV this Friday October 26th, at 8:30pm (9pm NT).

What is In the Making?

In the Making is an immersive journey inside the creative process. The documentary series follows host Sean O'Neill across the country and around the world alongside some of Canada's leading artists as they bring new work to life and face pivotal moments of risk and reward. All eight episodes are available to stream online now, with individual episodes broadcasting weekly each Friday at 8:30pm (9pm NT) on CBC.

Each episode follows an artist from across the creative spectrum — visual art, film, music, dance, theatre — with a unique approach to art-making and something to say about the world. Sean visits artists at home, in studio, backstage, and in the field, giving viewers rare access to intimate creative spaces and inspiring moments of realization.

Watch the trailer:

Stream every episode of In the Making now, or watch Friday at 8:30pm (9pm NT) on CBC TV.