Shelby Lisk

Shelby Lisk

What does it mean to be a white First Nation’s person? Do I exist in either part of my identity? What does it mean to be too white? What does it mean to have learned about your identity only from the perspective of white people?

I am a white presenting Mohawk woman so I subvert the expectations of my audience when I “mark” myself. My work asks audience members to think about their assumptions of what it means to be a First Nation’s person and how people identify me when I “pass” as white. I question why identity is constructed based on visible indicators by using self-portraiture.

In my artwork I deconstruct the idea of socially constructed identity in gender roles, relationship dynamics, race, and ability through photography and video. I explore my background as a Mohawk and Canadian woman and what it means to straddle the lines between, as well as other ideas related to my First Nation’s identity, such as how it affects us when we let other people (the government) define who we are. My artwork is a journey of trying to find an identity, but also fighting back against that which is telling me that I need to pick one specific identity or what signifies my identities.

In my current work I have been incorporating definitions as institutional, stable, and uncontested facts and then I am manipulating the texts. I am questioning which types of knowledge are deemed important in relation to the ideas of visibility in my imagery, while also using an acknowledged structure to place my words on par. Visible categories emerge in relation to race, disability and illness in my work. I also take invisible or private scenes in my life and make them available as a way to present identity as a nuanced experience. I am not interested in presenting an answer or specific view on a subject but inviting my audience to question and explore their own preconceived notions of my identity with me.

For the Luminous Bodies residency I will continue to question my whiteness as a form of invisibility. I will document myself living throughout the time I am there in a series of photographs where I allow my flesh to get so over exposed that I no longer exist. I will become completely blown out, invisible, white washed with no identity. While I do this, I will also record privileges I receive because of my perceived race or invisibility and maybe also explore how I feel about the benefits I may experience if I felt like I fit into my Mohawk identity. I will explore the frustration that I feel about wanting to fit into a neat box, but also being angry that society tells me I need to exist in that space. I exist in a non-space. People identify themselves in relation to the “other” but I don’t know who the “other” is.


Shelby Lisk is an emerging Ottawa-based artist, born and raised in Belleville, close to the Tyendinaga Mohawk Nation. In her artwork she explores her socially constructed identity by investigating gender roles and relationship dynamics. As well as her background as a Mohawk and Canadian woman and what it means to straddle the line between these identities. She investigates these roles through her imagery and the incorporation of text as a driving force for the image. Her main mediums consist of photography and video. She would like her viewers to question their own social roles when looking at her work and experience a sense of her perspective through the visual aspects. Her work can be interpreted as an intersectional feminist approach to an investigation of personal identity.

Shelby has exhibited work in Belleville, Ottawa, and Toronto. She has also curated exhibitions in Ottawa and is currently working as the gallery assistant at Central Art Garage in Centretown. She will be graduating next spring with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and minor in Women’s Studies and hopes to later pursue graduate school. In her personal work she enjoys photographing her friends and family on medium format and 35mm film and playing with the process of picture making. She also loves working on projects with her partner, Simon Stiles, who is a photographer as well. Some of her personal photography can be found on her blog.