Did you know that the Yukon boasts the highest concentration of visual artists in Canada? It’s true, with local artists are leading the way with respect to truth and reconciliation in art. One such creator, Sho Sho “Belelige” Esquiro, is a perfect example; of Kaska Dena, Cree and Scottish heritage, her contemporary art uses traditional techniques to create textiles that have been featured in museums around North America, including stunning pieces like ASCENSION, made of lynx paws, recycled silk woven prayer scarves, laser-cut rabbit fur, velvet, silk, platinum, sterling silver and 24K beads. She’s also a finalist in the Yukon Prize for Visual Arts! We chatted with Sho Sho to learn more. —Noa Nichol
Hello! Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background to start.
I am Kaska Dena, Cree and Scottish born and raised in the Yukon. I grew up with a clear goal of becoming an artist and fashion designer. My mama has been a professional artist my entire life so I was very privileged to have her mentorship and guidance, teachings and encouragement.
Congratulations on being named a finalist for the Yukon Prize for Visual Arts; how does it feel to have received this honour?
Thank you so much, I feel very honoured to be recognized not only as an artist but a Yukon First Nations artist, I am a very proud Yukoner and represent that in all my travels and the Yukon is deeply reflected in my work and is a constant inspiration.
Where do you take inspiration for your designs from? Who do you design for? How would you describe the pieces/clothing that you design? Do they hold a deeper meaning beyond simply being garments to wear?
As an artist I receive inspiration from many places, I feel it is a platform for me to speak about important issues in the Indigenous communities, and in the world. I also like to constantly challenge myself using different techniques and materials. I take in everything, my soundings, the people I meet, the land, the animals and my love for my culture and people. I design to express myself, I like to think what I’m doing isn’t much different than my ancestors. The pieces I create first start with prayer and I use many different materials, some sourced from the Yukon, even family such as linx from my Uncle Amos. My work holds deep meaning to my legacy, my impact and how I can contribute and also work with and encourage those that will come after me. Creating space and opportunity is my life’s work and passion.
How do you use your platform as a Yukon-based Indigenous fashion designer to create art that touches on Indigenous issues and healing?
I use my platform to speak on important issues not only that affect and are important to Indigenous people but also within our Country and society as a whole. This is a time for healing and that needs to happen as a country we as mourning our ancestors and waiting for Canada to really not only talk about Truth and Reconciliation but action. I feel without truth there can be no reconciliation. Another exhibition I am very proud to be a part of is my first solo exhibition now showing at the Bill Reid Gallery until June. It is titled Sho Sho Esquiro: Doctrine of Discovery, I’m hopeful it will not only provide a place for education through my self expression but allow for open dialog.
What message would you give to other up and coming or aspiring Canadian/Indigenous designers?
I would say to up-and-coming designers and artists to always do your best work. Seek mentors and there is so much we can learn from our elders. Following your passion is rewarding and to always make the best of every opportunity and build a team. Never burn bridges, as mama says! Make goals and work toward them, speak them into existence!