The 500 Year Itch, 1992
gelatin silver print heightened with applied colour, mounted on masonite
frame: 187x126x7.5 cm; image: 182 x 121.5 cm; object: 73.3465 x 49.3307 x 1.9685 in.; 186.3 x 125.3 x 5 cm
Gift of Victoria Henry, Ottawa, 2003
National Gallery of Canada (no. 41406)
© Shelley Niro
Shelley Niro, a member of the Turtle Clan of the Mohawk Nation, grew up on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario. Working in a variety of media, including beadwork, painting, photography, and film, Niro challenges stereotypical images of Aboriginal peoples through strategies of masquerade, parody, and appropriation. In "The 500 Year Itch" (1992), Niro poses coyly for the camera in a blonde wig and white sleeveless dress, while the breeze from a fan placed on the ground lifts up her dress. On one level, the work is a wry comment on the quincentenary of Christopher Columbus's landing on a supposedly "empty" continent. On another, the image is a spoof of the famous scene in the movie "The Seven Year Itch", in which Marilyn Monroe's dress flutters up while she is standing on an air vent. Niro's use of cultural icons deconstructs expectations about the roles a Mohawk woman can assume in modern society, at the same time revealing how media personalities actively figure in the construction of modern Aboriginal identity.