Fearless Collective Mural Process


The Fearless Collective is a public arts project based in South Asia created by artist, Shilo Shiv Suleman in response to the violent  “Nirbhaya” tragedy in Delhi, India in 2012. The purpose of Fearless Collective and its methodology is to create participative creative spaces and public art to shift from “fear to love.”  Shilo Shiv Suleman developed the Fearless Methodology from interactive workshops she facilitated throughout India over a period of three years from 2012-2015. In her participative workshops Shilo incorporates symbol, ritual, and storytelling with powerful collective acts of solidarity to create images of resistance with the purpose of reclaiming public spaces. The six steps of the methodology incorporated into the participative workshops focuses on reclaiming space, storytelling, symbol, ritual, gathering, and affirming. Drawing on personal histories and traditional storytelling, the Fearless Methodology has been shared with many communities throughout the world. 

In August 2018, Shilo Shiv Suleman travelled to Victoria to work with Indigenous artists and community members to create the mural, “To Finally Heal,” on Esquimalt Road (https://fearlesscollective.org/project/to-finally-heal/) on W̱SÁNEĆ and lək̓ʷəŋən territories. This mural focused on the questions asked to participants: What are your roots? Can you show me where it hurts? 


The mural created in Esquimalt and the Fearless Sisters Rising mural at UVic incorporate the collective imaginations of artists and storytellers to imagine different spaces for the purpose reclamation and collective healing. The Fearless Sisters Rising mural honors the presence and fearless resistance of Indigenous bodies, vital connections to land, and the brilliance of Indigenous artists. Based on the Fearless Methodology, this mural was created by BIPOC youth, students, and mentors in partnership with Sisters Rising and the Innovative Young Indigenous Leaders Symposium (IYLS).  It was unveiled in 2018 at the University of Victoria’s First People’s House at the Sister’s Rising International Forum for Wellbeing. 

In a classroom at the First People House at the University of Victoria on lək̓ʷəŋən territory in September 2018, BIPOC women of all generations gathered to participate in the six-step process of the Fearless Methodology.  The first step of the methodology is to reclaim space. Shilo Shiv Suleman describes reclaiming space as,  “We fill space with our bodies, stories and paintbrushes.” 

To welcome each other to the circle, smudge and incense were lit, and medicines gathered from traditional lands by women from the IYLS Collective were offered. As we gathered, we were blanketed in the scent of sweet smudge and incense that mingled in the room and then settled in the forgotten corners of the room. We reclaimed space for our stories to be heard, however painful, to be held in a gathering of community. We answered the questions: What repels you? What replenishes you?

As we spoke our truths, we ground nettle and devil’s club with a stone pestle and mortar to make tea. The rhythmic tapping of the stones followed the cadence of our voices.  Subtle breaths of steam rose to mingle with the smudge as we poured hot water over the medicines into our ceramic cups. The ritual of making tea brought our intentions into movement. Making and offering tea emerged as a symbol of warmth and connection to kin. These connections and this warmth are our remedies-this is what replenishes us.  The hot tea we sipped melted away our tensions and, as the dappled light of the setting sun filtered into the room, we envisioned sovereign spaces where safety and respect for our bodies and homelands are birthrights and talked about our wishes to be replenished by connections to land. As we talked about that repels us, stories of disconnection from our bodies, kin and community also emerged. For many of us, our bodies and stories are entangled in painful colonial histories. In the space, even though we felt the tension of these entanglements, stories emerged from spaces within ourselves and outside ourselves that were vital and fearless. As the light outside dwindled into darkness, laughter filled the room.  Joy, warmth, and connection recreated our space for imagination to flourish. 

With their brilliance, Indigenous artists Brianna Bear and Nicole Neidhart interpreted our stories into images and symbols that recreated a place and time where ancestors, future generations, and ourselves are nourished by kin and connections to land. For days and many evenings after the workshop, in the studios of the UVic Fine Arts Department, we painted, shared food, and invited our families to create with us. Amidst our gatherings, filled with laughter and paint splatter, several symbols and archetypes emerged from the blank canvas. For many days and nights, symbols of and gestures of reciprocity with land and kin is what we painted, reimagined, and created. The first image Nicole painted was an elder, who emerged with wings outstretched across the mural bringing laughter, joy, and protection to the younger generations who gather around her. And then, brushed with cedar and with feet entangled in roots of medicines from the land, a young woman was created who pours a molten elixir of the universe from an indigo crucible into the cup of her kin. Across from her, a young girl appeared with hair flowing like a river, carving a path deep into the land, receiving the steaming elixir in the cup she holds. Surrounded by plant medicines and the waxing and waning moon created by Brianna, the women were blanketed by kinship and land. 

In 2018, at the Sisters Rising for Wellbeing Forum at The First Peoples House at UVic, youth from South Africa, Saskatchewan and throughout British Columbia participated in a fearless methodology workshop and while they made to with us, we asked: What replenishes you? In response, they painted their reflections on the feathers of the elder in the mural. They painted the affirmations: 

After the mural was revealed at the 2018 forum, for sixteen months, it was stored in a campus office as we waited for funding to be secured and a space to be granted for the mural to be hung. During this time, despite many obstacles, the mural ceaselessly asked our collective to do its work. Now, it asks the Mearns Library Facility, the University of Victoria, and witnesses to also its work. The work of the mural is to reclaim space and  respect our generations and connections to land, not as a relic of a historical past that collects dust in the corner of this institution, but rather, like traditional medicines of this land, as living vital stories of reciprocity. To those who live with the weight of painful histories, we offer this image as an invitation to (re)imagine that we are wrapped in medicines and protected by the wings of our ancestors. The mural exhibited between the 3rd and 4th floors of the central stairwell in the Mearns-McPherson Library is a threshold. This threshold is vulnerable space to be seen- a border where our stories meet the gaze of an institution where historically our communities were not heard and our ancestors did not dream of being welcomed. This mural is a movement from fear to love, to invite all witnesses to act with reciprocity, respect, and commitment.