Shelley Niro

Cat. no. 49. Shelley Niro. Bay of Quinte Mohawk, Six Nations Turtle clan, born 1954. Thinking Caps, 1999. Mixed-media installation. Installation dimensions variable. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Purchased 2008, 42339.1-4. Photo: NGC. © Thinking Caps Installation.


I’m Shelly Niro, I’m from Bradford, Ontario. I grew up on the Six Nations Reserve. I’m Turtle Clan, Bay of Quinte Mohawk. And I’m an artist.
I was thinking about Native people and how they’ve had to use their own intellect to survive. Part of that intellect is also incorporating entertainment as a big part of culture. And it’s not just ‘cause it has to incorporate not just philosophy and religion, but there has to be a spark of stimulation there that people can respond to. It’s like sitting around the fire at night and I think artwork does the same thing. It has to pull people together and they have to look at it, and if they don’t understand it maybe they’ll discuss it among themselves.

When I make my work, I don’t want it to be a direct statement, like “This is what the work is about” because I think it should be like music. Sometimes you can listen to music, and maybe you don’t understand it, but sometimes it’s so beautiful that you don’t care, you know. So with thinking caps, there’s four stages in that work. There’s, it starts with a young child, there’s photographs in the work as well, so it’s – hands. One is of a young girl, with her hands putting beads together. The next one is a teenager, also working on beadwork, and the next one is a middle-aged woman, and the next photograph is an elderly woman’s hands.

There’s words of text with the photographs, and it’s English and it translates to Mohawk, and so the text is very simple, it says, “I’m born, I breathe, I see, I walk.” It’s kind of a lifespan of thought there. With the hats themselves, it starts out very simply. The teenage hat, it gets more involved, and the middle-aged hat is very strange. It’s not symmetrical, everything is a little bit off a bit, and so it’s like she’s going through this period of thinking, and then the elder hat goes back to, a simple design again. There’s a mirror there, so it’s put there so that you can look into the mirror and see yourself reflected in the mirror.

I get a lot of energy from looking at other people’s work. It’s amazing the effect art has on myself. I think that’s what art-making is all about.


Né: róntstha nia’té:kon tsi ní:iohtanion ahatí:raste, thó ní:tsi ió:ken tsi ní:tsi iakotehiaróntie ne iakononhsón:ni. Eksá:’a, Ken’nitiakoièn:’a, Iakón:kwe, iakokstén:ha. Ronwatiia’tárha, owennashón:’a , tanon taietsi’nehtará:ron, Ieráhsta ronwatina’tón:ni ne tsi niiotirihó:ten ne konón:kwe aotirihwà:ke, tanon tsi ní:tsi raotiwèn:nen, karahstánion, tanon iononhtónnion, né: akwé: ia’tekaiéhston raotiná:takon nonkwá:ti. Né: ió:ken tsi ní:tsi iakón:kwe iontehià:rons, tsi ní:tsi iakoteièn:tere, tanon tsi ní:tsi iontatienté:ri. Shelley Niro wa’í:ron “Akwé: tsi ní:tsi ionkwanonhtónnion kén:en.”



This mixed-media installation represents the four main stages of women in Haudenosaunee life: a young girl, a teenager, a middle-aged woman, and an elder. Using photography, text, and beadwork, the artist reveals key Haudenosaunee principles within each stage of life, and the relationships between language, art, and thinking within her community. This work reveals the natural progression of growth, understanding, and identity throughout a woman’s life. Shelley Niro says, “There’s a life span of thought there.”