Most artists are mired in the whole paint paradigm, but Montreal-based artist Shelley Miller has too crazy/brilliant a brain for that. Her message? History was definitely not very sweet. Her medium? Sugar. It’s thematically appropriate, it’s beautiful, and it’s public art that can disappear without a trace.
Miller has spent the last couple of years making large murals out of piped icing (like what they make cake roses with) and sugar tiles (like uh, tiles made of sugar) depicting slavery in all parts of the Americas. (Yes. Canada had slaves too. They weren’t always so frickin’ perfect.)
The above photo is of a piece that was installed in Victoria, B.C. called “Stained.” Of this one, the artist told the Atlantic: “The ornate design of the mural is a direct reference to the prevalence of ornate Victorian architecture in the area, the legacy of British influence that is the namesake of this city. As the title indicates, the central imagery became stained from rainfall, alluding to sugar’s stained historical links to slavery.” We will translate from artist-ese: This thing that is made from sugar got all fucked up, just like the fact that millions of people were enslaved so that those who enslaved them could eat sugar was all fucked up.
Below is another work of hers, “Cargo,” which went up in Montreal in 2009. It’s a shout-out/homage/reference to another slave-holding nation, Portugal, and their blue azulejo ceramics.
Of this one, the artist says, “The image depicted speaks of the history of sugar, linking the port of Montreal into the global network of sugars history and the slave trade that supported this industry. … The image links source and destination for all of the ‘cargo’ related to this history, both sugar barrels and human cargo that were carried across the oceans.” Again, she’d like to remind the citizens of Montreal that slaves brought sugar there, and that the money from sugar brought more slaves, and so on. And she’s using the substance that created that story to tell it. And it looks amazing and when it melts, also appropriately weird and creepy.