Prompted by the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation, renowned artist Shelley Niro looks back further to 1779, the year that 5,000 Haudenausaunee people arrived in Fort Niagara, having fled impending decimation in the state now known as New York.
Forced from their homeland, many did not survive the migration. Those that did survive arrived starving and near death, seeking refuge from their British allies. As repayment for their loyalty and land lost, the Six Nations of the Haudenausaunee—Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, Seneca and Tuscarora—were granted six miles of land on both sides of the Grand River, from its mouth to its source. This land has been continually depleted since the establishment of the Haldimand Proclamation in 1784; of the 950,000 acres originally set aside as the Haldimand Tract, only 48,000 acres remain.
Born in Niagara Falls, New York, Niro was raised on the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve. The exhibition 1779 features new videos, mixed media sculpture with sound, prints and photography that incorporate Niro’s unique reflective and biographical approach to art making. Poetic and understated, her works bring power to issues that lie close to the heart. In this exhibition, she looks to Niagara Falls as a means of illuminating the erasure of her people from their homelands.
To the Haudenausaunee, Niagara Falls represents all that is sacred, and in the face of intergenerational trauma, it is a site of remembrance and healing. Situating new artworks in conversation with historical works from the AGH Permanent Collection, Niro explores the colonial legacy of the Collection, and modes of occupation through which traditional lands were taken, and new nations formed.