Shanna Strauss’ mural can be seen at 4617 St. Jacques in St. Henri. (Courtesy Shanna Strauss)
Kanien’kehá:ka activists Ellen Gabriel and Mary Two-Axe Earley are front and centre of a mural that was recently completed in St. Henri.
“It’s a really nice gesture of reconciliation and this is a part of marking our territory in the sense of our respectful recognition of the tenacity of Onkwehón:we women,” Gabriel told The Eastern Door.
“We have been sort of excluded from history on many levels, and Indigenous women are finally getting the kind of recognition that they deserve.”
The mural, which can be seen at 4617 St. Jacques in St. Henri, features an eight-foot photo transfer of the women’s portraits on wood. It was created by Shanna Strauss, a Tanzanian-American artist currently living in Montreal.
“It’s the first time that I’ve ever done a mural and the first time I’ve ever done a photo transfer this big. This project has been incredible in that it’s made me break new ground and push boundaries in ways that I’ve never done before in terms of scale,” said Strauss.
The piece was drawn from her recent work Changemakers that features black women in Montreal who have been working towards positive change. When Strauss met Ellen Gabriel during the Walking With Our Sisters installation, she thought Gabriel would be the ideal person to feature for the project.
“I think the idea was a nice idea because of her intent to show strong Mohawk women of the territory, especially in Montreal,” said Gabriel.
Gabriel suggested the mural ought to also include Two-Axe Earley, whose activism for First Nations women eventually led to the passing of Bill C-31 in 1985, an amendment to the Indian Act to correct gender discrimination.
“She’s a hero of mine because of her strength and what she did to get equality for women like her and her children,” said Gabriel.
“I’m very honoured that she had asked. It’s really great because I love art and I want her to show me how she does that photo transfer onto wood. It’s something we’re trying to do here at the cultural centre. I really like the medium too and would like to put some stuff up here around the community to put more than Mohawk territory signs up.”
As a nod to Strauss’ own background, the mural incorporated a floral design from the conga, a fabric that women in Tanzania wear. She said it was a way to represent and symbolize solidarity with Indigenous women from her own ancestry.
“Often times we get caught up in our own communities in helping to create change and to push back against the systems that are oppressive in our own communities and we lose sight of the broader picture,” said Strauss.
“Even though different communities of colour and Indigenous folks are going through not exactly the same structural oppression, it’s a part of a larger broader system of oppression that ends up affecting everybody. To be standing next to each other, to be working alongside each other is really important.”
The project was one of six murals created as a part of Unceded Voices, a biennial convergence of Indigenous-identified women and women of colour street artists in Tiohtià:ke.
A few blocks away from Strauss’ mural is work by Oneida of the Thames street artist Aura. She collaborated on a large mural of a hoop dancer on the corner of St. Ferdinand and Notre Dame West with Anishinaabe street artist Chief Lady Bird.
“This piece is kind of particularly inspired by some pieces that we’ve been doing in Toronto. We’ve been doing a lot of dancers and a lot of women portraits throughout the city,” said Aura.
“To me, it’s the idea of us as women painting, but also being street artists and Indigenous women. Putting a giant woman on a giant wall is so empowering, also acknowledging that we’re on Haudenosaunee land. That’s something that is really important to us to honour and respect.”