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Shelley Niro, Battlefields of my Ancestors 2010 (detail), image courtesy of the artist.

Shelley Niro: Battlefields of My Ancestors and Cold Front

January 12 to March 4, 2017
Opening reception: Thursday, January 12th at 7:00 P.M.

In Battlefields of My Ancestors, Shelley Niro (Mohawk, turtle clan) explores historic sites of conflict 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. More than 300 died on foreign battlefields and at least 50 were awarded medals for bravery and heroism. 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.”

Internationally acclaimed as an artist and filmmaker, Shelley Niro received her MFA from Western in 1997 and 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, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and McIntosh Gallery. Her short film, The Shirt, was presented at the 2003 Venice Biennale and the 2004 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

Cold Front 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. This exhibition looks at the varied ways in which these regional artists navigated the anxieties of the international Cold War. For example, in the lithograph America, May 31, 1989–June 30, 1989, 1989, Curnoe takes a satirical approach to Yankee imperialism with a map of North America in which the United States has been removed, leaving only Canada and Mexico. Jack Chambers’ landmark film Hybrid, 1966, contrasts images of flowers from an existing horticultural film with footage from the Vietnam War. And just before the Cuban Missile Crisis, Urquhart painted Calm, 1962, while artist-in-residence at McIntosh Gallery. It depicts a massive brown cloud suggestive of the slow-rolling motion of a nuclear explosion.

Cold Front is curated by Western University art history graduate students: Beatriz Asfora, Brad Morosan, Kelsey Perreault, Caroline Rabideau, Mackenzie Sinclair, and Ruth Skinner, with the assistance of Professor Sarah Bassnett and McIntosh Gallery curator Catherine Elliot Shaw.

Related Programs (free admission, everyone welcome):

Evan J. Habkirk lecture: Battlefields of my Ancestors, Thursday, January 19th at 12:30 P.M.
Habkirk is a doctoral candidate in history and a lecturer in the First Nations Studies Program at Western University. He is a founding board member of the Great War Centenary Association Brantford–Brant County–Six Nations. His research interests include First Nations military history, residential schools, and Indigenous/newcomer relations in the British Empire.

Curator-led tour of Cold Front with Kelsey Perreault, Friday, January 27th at 12:30 P.M.

Curator-led tour of Battlefields of My Ancestors with James Patten, Friday, February 3rd at 12:30 P.M.

Shelley Niro artist talk, Thursday, February 16th at 7:00 P.M.
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.


Shelley Niro: Battlefields of my Ancestors and Cold Front are part of Western’s Canada 150 programming in celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial. McIntosh Gallery gratefully acknowledges the financial support of Western’s Canada 150 Committee, which has made these exhibitions and related programs possible.

For more information contact Mitra Shreeram, Communications and Outreach Coordinator, 519.661.2111 ext. 87576



McIntosh Gallery
Western University
London, Ontario N6A 3K7
Tel: 519-661-3181






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