What is "LEGACY"?

I'm still feeling the wobbly, slightly hung-over-from-dehydration feeling that comes the day after installing a sugar mural. The title of the mural is "LEGACY" and it was installed as part of Under Pressure Graffiti Festival in Montreal, on a wall in the Quartier des Spectacle, next to Metro St. Laurent.  It's up, I'm happy with how it looks, and now I have to return regularly to document the weathering that comes with rain and sun. 

A lot of people are asking what this mural and its imagery means? So this blog post offers more insight into why I decided to do this mural and what the meaning is behind the imagery.  

In 2009 I lost someone very dear to me in Brazil. His name was Danilo Brandao Araujo. He was shot 3 times by the police and killed. It's a long story, but in short, he was not carrying a weapon, and not in the act of committing a crime. There was no justification to kill him. Yet his death sparked no protests or inquiries. No marches or vigils were held. No hashtags or tweets. This was just another ordinary day in Brazil. Another young black man shot dead by police. His own mother didn't even push for the truth. She knows the system. There will never be answers or truth. Asking too many questions just makes more trouble for yourself. 

I was left feeling devastated, angry and powerless. For years I just held on to that anger, but not knowing what to do with it. Every time a young black man is killed unjustifiably by police, be it in Brazil, Canada or the US, I feel that wound re-open.  My frustrations finally reached their limit a few months ago and I felt some clarity of how I might turn my anger into something productive: to make a sugar mural about this epidemic issue and hopefully bring about more discussion, protest and ultimately, change. 

The central image in my mural is situated in the historic area of Salvador, Brazil. Those who have visited the area will recognize this area known as Pelourinho. What most may not know is that this word is the Portuguese word for "pillory" which is a whipping post. This is the place where slaves were brought to be whipped and publicly humiliated. I have included this location in my design as a symbol of colonization and slavery. The disproportional imprisonment and police shootings of black men in Brazil (as in other countries) can be considered the legacy of slavery; the modern day form of oppression. The anchor, chains and shackles in the design all relate to this same sentiment.  

The 3 young men featured in the design were all killed by police. The situations were different and unrelated, but the outcome was the same. Their names are: 
Danilo Brandao Araujo, 1982-2009
Wilton Esteves Domingos Júnior, 1996-2016
Roberto de Souza Penha, 2000-2016

The last 2 boys were killed along with 3 other young men when their car was loaded with bullets by police in a favela in Rio de Janeiro due to 'mistaken identity' (AKA: racial profiling).  More info about that HERE and article in Portuguese HERE

Where the mural begins as a crisp and fresh image, it will erode in the rain and sun, devolving from decadence into decay; a symbol of memento mori as well as the destructive legacy that colonization continues to have.‎ The painted imagery on the mural will quickly fade as a reminder of both actual loss as well as the fading attention these stories receive in the public consciousness. 

NOTE: Blog post was updated August 22nd to show the erosion process that the mural underwent between August 16-22. 

LEGACY: New sugar mural for Under Pressure

I'm currently working on a new sugar mural, destined to be installed in downtown Montreal, in the Quartier Spectacle, just outside of Metro St. Laurent. It's part of Under Pressure, a graffiti festival in Montreal that is 21 years strong. Check out their website for details on all the events coinciding this weekend (August 10-14). http://underpressure.ca/

Here are some pics of my process in studio. 


Title: Legacy

During Under Pressure, Montreal artist Shelley Miller will install an ephemeral 7 foot x 7 foot mural made entirely of sugar. This hand-painted tile mural, reminiscent of heroically themed azulejo ceramic murals, addresses the links between colonization and slavery. The image seeks to illustrate the current epidemic of young black men disproportionately imprisoned or targeted by police with lethal consequences. Miller has chosen to focus this theme in the context of Brazil to represent a global issue of injustice at the hands of police. Her losing a loved one due to profiling and her commitment to social justice were the inspiration to the project. 

Where the mural begins as a crisp and fresh image, it will soon erode, devolving from decadence into decay; a symbol of memento mori as well as the destructive legacy that colonization continues to have.‎ The painted imagery on the mural will quickly fade as a reminder of both actual loss as well as the fading attention these stories receive in the public consciousness.

The Edible Mosaic Workshop

I gave a workshop last Monday, May 2nd, on my technique for making sugar mosaics. Here are some photos of what we worked on. A lot of fun was had by the participants as well as me! I have loads of ideas to add for future workshops, so stay tuned for updates on when those will be. Thanks to Suzanne Spahi at Mosaikashop for hosting the event. 

Workshop: Making edible sugar mosaics for cake decorating

If you are familiar with my work, you know about my sugar tile murals. I make the sugar tiles by hand, then paint them, thus creating the mural. But a looooong time ago, I made a cake that looked like a mosaic table top. It was classic broken tile mosaic (for those of you who know mosaic lingo). I even had some "grout lines" on top that were created with carefully combed buttercream icing. And, to top it all off, edible nippers made of marzipan. Delicious! 

So I'm teaming up with a mosaic atelier in Montreal to do a one-day workshop on how to make your own mosaic tile cake. I'll cover how to make the sugar fondant, tips for painting the imagery, making the mosaic and finally applying it to a cake. And when it's all done, we'll eat cake! What could be better!  

Monday, May 2nd from 10am - 4pm

If you want to register, email  suzanne@mosaikashop.com
All the details are on the MosaikaShop blog:

Hope to see you there!

Playing the long game

I’m up to my eyeballs right now in writing proposals: funding, exhibitions, festivals, commissions and just general hunting for opportunities. I’m in the phase that I call “the substrate". It isn’t glamorous. There are no juicy photos to post. I’ve been a bit silent on social media, so some may assume that I’ve got nothing going on. But in truth, that’s when most of the real work is happening.  

Spending my days writing and researching can be tough for an artist like me who often just wants to be left alone in my studio so I can turn my brain off and make things with my hands. But ultimately, I love the final product of building a big project, both in scale and in outreach. So I need to put a lot of pieces in place first. There’s no instant gratification in building foundations but of course, we all know what happens if you build on shaky ground.

Whenever I get impatient, and feel like a big project will never take form (because I need more funding, or more partners, or more x, y, or z) I remind myself about Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the legendary installation artists (http://christojeanneclaude.net). Some of their projects took around 10 years to accomplish, from initial plan to final realization. I find that really inspiring. It gives me the strength to see beyond my immediate obstacles and to just be persistent. I also respect that they paid for all of their projects through the sales of preparatory drawings and earlier works. They did not accept sponsorship of any kind. 

I also get a whole whack of inspiration and motivation from Vik Muniz, specifically from his Portraits of Garbage series and the resulting documentary film “Wasteland”. Sure, he has a lot of resources and financial partners to back a big project. But i feel like what made that project successful was his belief in what he wanted to do. The heart of his idea was to reveal the humanity of the people of Jardim Gramacho (the world's largest dump, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro) and he didn’t listen to the negative thoughts or be deterred by the many obstacles he faced (see details on blog Recycle Nation). 

If you build it, they will come. 

So now I want to know what creative projects inspire you to play the long game? Let me know in the comments section. 

Feature in book "L'univers du sucre"

Many of my sugar murals are featured in this beautiful book about the history of sugar (and sugars association to just about everything). Authors Vittorio and Roswitha Di Martino have sourced rare and intriguing imagery, offering an investigation of this material that is as broad as it is eclectic. Written in French and published by Orphie it's a great reason to practice your French reading😉 Here are some sneak peeks inside the book.  It was difficult to choose only a few pages, since it comes in at 260 pages total! Chapter subjects include the slave trade, sugar in literature and music, sugar in art, sugar for alcohol, sugar in advertising all over the world. I'm giving away a FREE COPY of the book!  To win, just like my Facebook fan page and like the posting about the book. Enter HERE.

(en français) Beaucoup de mes peintures murales de sucre sont présentés dans ce beau livre sur l'histoire du sucre.  Les auteurs, Vittorio et Roswitha Di Martino, ont d'origine des images rare et intrigante, offrant une enquête de ce matériau qui est aussi large que il est éclectique. Écrit en français et publié par Orphie. Voici quelques pages de l'intérieur du livre. Il était difficile de choisir seulement quelques pages, car il arrive à 260 pages au total! Sujets incluent l'industrie de l'esclave, du sucre dans la littérature et la musique, l'art fait avec du sucre, le sucre pour l'alcool, le sucre dans la publicité partout dans le monde. Pour GAGNER un livre, "LIKE" ma page fan Facebook et "LIKE" le post sur le livre.
Entrer ICI


"Pipe Dreams" 


"Signature" (top) and "Wealth of Some and Ruin of Others" (bottom)


My murals "Cargo" (top) and "Stained" (bottom)

 Vik Muniz sugar portraits

Vik Muniz sugar portraits

 music about sugar

music about sugar


Films about sugar

We built it, and they came!

Last Saturday was the People, Pattern, Place photo shoot in Melville, SK. I’ve been here for all of August preparing for this community photo project.  The night before, I had people cancelling last minute, as well as people signing up last minute on the day of the shoot! So things evened out in the end. I had planned the design for 55 people, but ended up squeezing in 59 to allow everyone a spot. 

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for more on an outdoor photo shoot:

  • no rain
  • warm, but not too hot temperatures
  • minimal mosquitos (they had been TERRIBLE recently!)
  • Enough people showed up
  • I did not fall out of the bucket lift during the shoot. 

I’m especially happy about that last one :-)

Here are some photos of the prep, placement and the final product. There were a lot of jokes and bantering flying around, so I think it’s safe to say that everyone had fun. Special thanks to:

  • The Canada Council for the Arts for their support in developing this project.
  • my family for acting as my assistants! 
  • The Melville Heritage Museum board members for their involvement and use of their lawn. 
  • HaasBro Photography for operating the drone camera.
  • Jake’s Tree Cutting for the use and operation of the bucket truck. 
  • And of course, thanks to all the people who came out to be part of the photo! 

More “People, Pattern, Place” projects are already in the works for next year, so stay tuned! Maybe you can be in the next one…

Updates will be posted on Twitter (@ShelleyMiller) and my Facebook fan page Shelley Miller Studio. 

The Power of Face-to-Face

It's been 2 solid weeks of trying to recruit people for my photo shoot, People, Pattern, Place in Melville, Saskatchewan. It's my home town. I grew up here and half of my family still lives here. I thought it would be easy to get 80 people out for a community art project. But it's been tougher than I thought. It's the end of summer, so a lot of people are away for the weekend. There's the Fall Autumn Classic gold tournament, so half the town will be doing that instead! But little by little, with a lot of help from my family members, we've rounded up enough people for the project. 

it's been a good lesson for me: I've realized that making an event on Facebook isn't nearly  enough to host an event. You have to build it, but if you want them to come, you have to talk to people, face to face. My sister went door-to-door in her neighbourhood telling people about the project and my mom was down at the local Dairy Queen soliciting all her friends to come. This is, after all, a community-collaborative project so getting out into the community has proven to be the best way to get people involved. 

I'm looking forward to tomorrow! Former high school teachers will there, friends from elementary school, old neighbours. Like the quilt pattern the project will form, it will have a lot of threads of my past woven in.