Image: Shelley Niro, Battlefields of my Ancestors 2010 (detail), image courtesy of the artist.
In this exhibition, artist Shelley Niro (Mohawk, turtle clan) explores historic battlefields that hold significance for her people. Beginning in New York State, where she was born, Niro documents the location of Cayuga villages destroyed during the American Revolutionary War and follows the subsequent migration to the area now known as the Six Nations near Brantford, Ontario. The final image depicts the Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge. In addition to Canada’s sesquicentennial, 2017 also marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, which is often understood as a key event in the development of our national identity as a sovereign country.
About one third of Indigenous men in Canada age 18 to 45 enlisted during the First World War. Hundreds were wounded and over 300 died on foreign battlefields. At least 50 were awarded medals for bravery and heroism. Aboriginal women were active on the home front, contributing to the war effort through fundraising and other means. After the war, Indigenous veterans, who did not receive the same benefits as others who served, began to organize politically. In 1919, Six Nations Lieutenant F.O. Loft founded the first national pan-Indian political organization: the League of Indians of Canada. According to Niro: “Vimy Ridge was an important place because that’s where all the nations came together and went as one nation to another place to fight this battle. There are quite a few men from Six Nations that died at Vimy.”[i]
This exhibition also includes a major work by Niro from the McIntosh Gallery collection that elides the histories of the First World War and that of the Indigenous people of Eastern North America, through the stories of two heroic women. In Parallel Worlds of Women and Warriors, 2010, Niro begins with a stereoscopic image and text about Mlle Semmer, a French woman who was “Decorated for Heroic Actions under Fire” during the First World War. Niro describes how this French photograph, which she found in an antique store, “made her realize that we don’t often see Indigenous people, especially women, “placed in the context of heroes”. Using the format of a double image with an explanatory text identical to that of the Mlle Semmer stereoscope, Niro casts the story of Jigosase, a heroine widely recognized in Indigenous culture and referred to as “the Mother of All Nations”, to convey her own Haudenosaunee history. Niro links the found and the fictive stereoscopic views with a central image of Two Row Wampum, a treaty woven from beads that directed two different cultures to live in harmony. As Niro puts it: “The philosophy is that two cultures can live together if they remain parallel, never putting their foot into the other culture or canoe.” Typically geometric, Niro digitally-altered the Wampum image into a stunning, undulating flower-like composition.
Internationally acclaimed as an artist and filmmaker, Niro was born in Niagara Falls, New York in 1954 and grew up on the Six Nations Reserve, near Brantford, Ontario. Shelley received her MFA from Western University’s Department of Visual Arts in 1997. She was the first recipient of the Ontario Arts Council’s Aboriginal Art Award in 2012. Her work is represented in many public art collections including the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario. Her work has been exhibited extensively in Canada and internationally. She is most noted for her photographs using herself and female family members cast in contemporary positions to challenge the stereotypes and clichés of Native American women. Her short film, The Shirt, was presented at the 2003 Venice Biennale and the 2004 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
Shelley Niro: Battlefields of my Ancestors is part of Western’s Canada 150 programming in celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial. Western’s Canada 150 committee comprises staff, faculty and students and is co-chaired by Professor Jerry White, Department of Sociology, and Marcia Steyaert, Communications & Public Affairs. McIntosh Gallery gratefully acknowledges the financial support of Western’s Canada 150 Committee, which has made this exhibition and related programs possible.
Western University is situated on the traditional territories of the Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Lunaapeewak and Attawandaron peoples who have longstanding relationships to the land and region of southwestern Ontario and the City of London.
The local First Nation communities of this area include Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, Oneida Nation of the Thames, and Munsee Delaware Nation. In the region, there are eleven First Nation communities and a growing Indigenous urban population. Western values the significant historical and contemporary contributions of local and regional First Nations and all of the Original peoples of Turtle Island (North America).
Curator-led tour with James Patten
Friday, February 3rd at noon
Shelley Niro artist talk
Thursday, February 16th at 7:00 PM
North Campus Building, room NC 113, free admission. Presented in collaboration with Western University’s Department of Visual Arts, as part of its ArtNow Winter 2017 Speakers' Series, organized by Christof Migone.
Please contact Mitra Shreeram firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
[i] Brant News, October 7, 2015
Image: Jack Chambers, Hybrid (still from film), 1966, image courtesy of the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre.
This exhibition features six artists –Tom Benner, John Boyle, Jack Chambers, Greg Curnoe, Jamelie Hassan, and Tony Urquhart – who worked in London, Ontario during the Cold War (1947-91). In this period of heightened political tension, capitalist and communist countries battled to shape global economic development and modernization according to their respective ideals.
Cold Front looks at the varied ways in which these regional artists navigated the anxieties of the international Cold War. In the lithograph America, May 31, 1989–June 30, 1989, 1989, Greg Curnoe takes a satirical approach to Yankee imperialism by asking the viewer to consider a map of North America in which the United States has been removed, leaving only Canada and Mexico.
In what is arguably his most overtly political film, Jack Chambers’ Hybrid, 1966, contrasts images of flowers from a found horticultural film and footage from the Vietnam War.
Tony Urquhart painted Calm, 1962, at McIntosh Gallery while artist-in-residence just before the Cuban Missile Crisis. Though apparently static–the calm before the storm–a massive brown cloud suggests the slow-rolling motion of a nuclear explosion. Urquhart conveys a veil of uncertainty symbolic of the ominous atmosphere of the 1960s.
Cold Front is guest curated by art history graduate students in the Department of Visual Arts: Beatriz Asfora, Brad Morosan, Kelsey Perreault, Caroline Rabideau, Mackenzie Sinclair, and Ruth Skinner, with Professor Sarah Bassnett and McIntosh Gallery Curator Catherine Elliot Shaw.
Cold Front is part of Western’s Canada 150 programming in celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial. Western’s Canada 150 committee comprises staff, faculty and students and is co-chaired by Professor Jerry White, Department of Sociology, and Marcia Steyaert, Communications & Public Affairs. McIntosh Gallery gratefully acknowledges the financial support of Western’s Canada 150 Committee, which has made this exhibition and related programs possible.
Curator-led exhibition tour with Kelsey Perreault
Friday, January 27th at 12:30 PM
Please contact Mitra Shreeram at email@example.com for more information.