Shelley Niro's 500 Year Itch

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Shelley Niro (Kanien’kehaka) grew up watching her father craft faux tomahawks to sell to tourists who flocked to her birthplace, Niagara Falls. In this episode of the Hyperallergic podcast, she reflects on how witnessing him create these objects planted the seeds for her brilliant multidisciplinary art practice spanning film, sculpture, beading, and photography. 

She joined us in our Brooklyn studio for an interview, where she reflected on growing up in the Six Nations of the Grand River, the Native artists she discovered on her dentist’s wall but rarely encountered in a museum before the mid-’90s, and her latest obsession with 500 million-year-old fossils.

An expansive review of her work is currently featured in a traveling retrospective, Shelley Niro: 500 Year Itch, which was organized by Canada’s Art Gallery of Hamilton (AGH), with support from the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and the National Gallery of Canada (NGC). The exhibition was co-curated by Melissa Bennett, senior curator of Contemporary Art at AGH; Greg Hill, an independent curator who is a former senior curator of Indigenous Art at the NGC; and David Penney, associate director of Museum Scholarship, Exhibitions, and Public Engagement at the NMAI).

When this interview was recorded, the show was on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. It was on display from February 10 to May 26 at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, and will be exhibited next from June 21 to August 25 at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario. 

The music and sound effects in this episode are from the films “Honey Moccasin” and “Tree” by Shelley Niro, courtesy of the artist. 

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  • (00:00) - Intro
  • (03:02) - Beginnings of “500 Year Itch” Retrospective
  • (04:18) - About “Honey Moccasin”
  • (06:47) - Early Life
  • (08:42) - The Six Nations of the Grand River
  • (12:12) - Going to Art School and Native Representation in Museums
  • (19:12) - Work in Painting
  • (22:32) - Work in Photography
  • (24:53) - On Niagara Falls
  • (26:29) - History Behind Grand River Reserve
  • (27:58) - The 1990s and Institutional Perspectives on Native American Art
  • (31:12) - “Mohawks and Beehives” Series
  • (34:51) - Why “500 Year Itch”?
  • (39:47) - Art Schools Today
  • (42:54) - Humor
  • (47:27) - “In Her Lifetime” Series
  • (49:57) - The Grand River
  • (53:52) - Newest Works and Ancient Fossils
  • (57:05) - Outro

Shelley Niro's 500 Year Itch
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