"Some people think that to be Indian, you have to do certain things, but I'm saying that you're Indian no matter what you do, but you have to decide what you want to do and you have to ask questions, like, am I doing something because it's expected of me to do, or am I doing it because I really believe this and it's really a part of me. So I'm always questioning that, saying, "Am I being truthful to myself? How much a part of what I do is part of my psychology?""
Shelley Niro is a multi-diciplinary artist, and a member of the Six Nations Reserve, Turtle Clan, Bay of Quinte Mohawk. She has worked in a variety of media, including beadwork, painting, photography, and film. Her work challenges stereotypical images of Aboriginal peoples.
Niro was raised on the Six Nations Reserve near the town of Brantford, Ontario. Invention and creativity were rampant in her childhood home. With few entertainment options she and her brothers and sisters would work to amuse each other with storytelling, drawing, plays, and songs, with each performance being judged and critiqued. Later in her career Niro would use her family members in her artworks. In Time Travels through Us, Niro presents her mother and two daughters, the trio representing the social, cultural and personal values that have been transmitted from one generation to the next. The colours purple and silver suggest Iroquois aesthetics, and could also imply wampum, or the documentation of an event of importance to the Iroquois people. The turtle, Niro's clan animal and central animal of the Iroquoian creation myth, also figures prominently.
For Niro education is an ongoing process which began with a Diploma in the Performing Arts from Cambrian College, Sudbury Ontario (1972), followed with an Honours Fine Arts Degree in painting and sculpture from the Ontario College of Art, (1990) and a Master of Fine Arts form the University of Western Ontario in 1997. In the 2000's Niro's studies began to delve more deeply into the medium of film with programs at the Banff Centre for the Arts.
Though her work delves into serious issues and is rich with poignant imagery, Niro inserts humour into her practice. In Overweight with Crooked Teeth she unabashedly pokes fun at the stereotype of the "Aboriginal warrior". Masquerade, parody and appropriation also play a role in her practice. In The 500 Year Itch Niro re-enacts the famous scene from the film The Seven Year Itch, in which Marilyn Monroe's dress flutters up while she is standing on an air vent. Niro, in deliberately leaving her photo equipment in view illustrates the notion that all cultural stereotypes and pop culture images are constructions. The title of the piece also comments on the quincentenary of Christopher Columbus's landing on a supposedly "empty" continent.
Niro has received considerable attention for her work in film. Her short film The Shirt, was presented at the 2003 Venice Biennal as well as at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.