Elijah Monroe | #TBT Alumni
Since graduating from the Honours Bachelor of Photography program in 2016, Elijah Monroe has been an active member of the Sheridan community and beyond. A member of the Cayuga tribe, Elijah was raised on the Grand River Reserve #40 of the Six Nations and is currently working as the Research Assistant for Sheridan’s Centre for Indigenous Learning and Support.
Elijah recently mounted an exhibition entitled Indigen:us, a body of work which explores what it means to be First Nation, Métis and Inuit at Sheridan and in its communities. Specializing in fashion and portrait photography, Elijah has worked in both commercial and fine art photography. In 2012, Elijah completed an internship with Portfolio One in Los Angeles, working on projects for clients such as Warner Bros. Studios. As an artist, Elijah is interested in utilizing photography to fight for a real change in Canadian First Nations communities. In the future, he plans to pursue a Masters degree in Policy and Administration.
We spoke to Elijah about how he incorporates community building through his practice, what a day looks like in his new position, and how life after graduation has been:
FAAD: In May, you were a part of 57 Voices, the Bachelor of Photography program’s graduating exhibition. Your bookwork, I am an Indian Within the Meaning of the Indian Act presented a poignant critique through a bureaucratic method of execution. Your other project in the exhibition featured portraits of yourself assuming numerous characters and identities.
The work in Indigen:us seems to contain some similar elements to these previous projects and there is a balance between portraits, individual voices and bureaucratic language. Can you speak a bit about how you came to merge these elements and your process in creating the works?
EM: I realized in my 4th and final year of the bachelor of photography program that identity has been at the heart of my photographic works. Identity is so important to our people as First Nations in Canada because much of it has been lost due to colonization and assimilation. As a young kid growing up on the reserve, I always thought of these characters and personas that I would privately portray. An example would be enacting the role of a professional office worker. To this day, I still think of the ways in which I can pretend to be someone else. It drives my creative process. If we don’t know our own identity, then who are we? This is why I challenge peoples perceptions on what identity could mean and especially contemporary identity for our First Nations peoples. We are not colonial concepts of the past but rather thriving sustainable communities across Canada.
24 x 36″
Digital print on Satin paper
FAAD: Your artistic, commercial and administrative practices all seems to include working with numerous people, including clients, sitters, models, friends, community members, and many more. How do you incorporate all these people and voices into your work?
EM: I really try to capture the essence of the sitter. I look for moments in people that I would say best show who they are. They are the tiniest glimpses into someone that are easily missed. If you really pay attention to a person and how they express themselves, you could see those moments happen. This is why I love to work with people the most. You get to make that connection and bring that out in a portrait to tell a larger story.
42 x 42″
FAAD: Since the summer, you’ve been incredibly busy all the projects that the Centre has programmed. We worked directly with you to produce the Indigenous Youth Skateboard workshop and more recently, you were part of the panel discussion with Thomas King to launch his book “The Inconvenient Indian”. Can you talk a bit about what a normal workday looks like for you as the Centre’s Research Assistant, the many hats you wear and how you incorporate your education in photography with your position?
EM: A normal workday for me is a busy one these days. There are so many students that come into the office that I get to chat with and see what they are doing here at Sheridan. Lately, I have been at conferences and meetings and doing classroom visits. There is always something different to do. What I normally do is read policy from the government and see where that fits into our Sheridan community. My work here informs my creative side to make change for our Indigenous peoples. To open that dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples about the true realities our peoples face in modern Canada. Inequities exist to this day and not much has been improved since the repatriation of our constitution in Canada. We need to do more as a society to close education, housing, water, and health gaps that we face. My goal for my work is to evoke these very important conversations. The other day, an international student from China said my work inspired her to learn more about Indigenous peoples as she didn’t know much or how diverse our people are here. To me, my work did its job if it could do that for one student.
24 x 36″
Digital print on Satin paper
FAAD: Many of our faculty and staff are also Sheridan grads, but you made this transition very quickly after completing the photography program. Could you talk a bit about what it’s been like to go from being a student to working in a role where you are guiding students?
EM: I adapted well to the transition as I always felt a sense of responsibility to give back in some way as I believe in reciprocity. The office here did not exist when I first started here at Sheridan so I learned very quickly to navigate the Sheridan system. Not many other students are like that to know how to follow up with their funding, having their spots saved for next year, etc. It gets complicated. It took me over a month to get it all sorted out. It was tough to do but that is why I am here now to help our current and future students with the complexities of getting the administration stuff in order. Quickly.
FAAD: What was going through your head as a recent grad? How did your experience at Sheridan prepare you on the path to being a fashion/portrait photographer and where you want to go with photography in the future?
EM: Sheridan has taught me a diverse knowledge of skills that are both artistic and also critical thinking skills. My core courses advanced my creative side as my elective courses advanced the critical thinking side. The faculty at Sheridan taught us so much especially in the field of photography. Most of them are still working in the industry. Heather, a professor in the photography program introduced me to post-modernism. I didn’t know about this until she brought theory into our lives. This inspired me a lot because it widened the lens I had and found a new appreciation for different artist who worked within the boundaries or no boundaries for that matter in post-modernism. What I love about it is that you think you know it and at the same time, you don’t know it. It’s wonderful really. Another professor, Meredith really throws your way of thinking. She will suggest something you never thought about doing. I also giver her credit for introducing me to design and pointing out that I have a natural eye for graphic design. If you look closely at some of my works, you will notice it, I hope.
Sheridan gave me the space to learn and grow and I will continue to learn more as I move along in the future. I look forward to the endless possibilities that the future will bring and I look forward to completing a master’s degree very soon.
Sheridan’s Faculty of Animation, Art & Design (FAAD) would like to thank Elijah for taking the time to chat with us and share his experiences.
FAAD’s #TBT Alumni column is dedicated towards highlighting the achievements, stories, and journeys of our recent Animation, Art, and Design graduates. Learn more about where our graduates end up, how they got there, and how their time at Sheridan influenced their post-grad life.
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Presented by the Creative Campus Galleries in partnership with Sheridan Reads, Indigen:us can be found in the Trafalgar library.
Sheridan’s Centre for Indigenous Learning and Support can be found in room B127 of Trafalgar Campus. It is part of Sheridan’s commitment to support the academic and personal success of all Indigenous students: Status, Non-Status, Metis, and Inuit.