Sculpture "white elephant" of woman's head with white bob


Artist Talk with Shary Boyle

White Elephant

Artist Shary Boyle discusses the two-year process of creating the sculpture White Elephant; thoughts and processes that led to the work's inception; addressing white supremacy through an artistic practice from Shary’s personal perspective and experience as a white artist; and the relationships and contributions of the fabrication team that assisted in the creation of the work. 

Commissioned by CAFKA for the 2021 biennale, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost, Shary Boyle’s White Elephant , is a 9-foot tall, seated figure with a head that electro-mechanically rotates at irregular intervals. This gigantic figure is constructed with structural steel and shaped with foam, dressed in a custom hand-knitted sweater, bespoke trousers, sourced dress shoes and wig -- all in white. The hands and face are rendered in porcelain, and its head enigmatically turns 360 degrees at irregular intervals. The work is inspired by the artist’s investigation into the historical moment of racial recognition in Canadian (and world) culture, in particular, Canada’s grappling with its white supremacist/colonial settler history and our currently evolving comprehension of what it means to be “white.”

Image: Shary Boyle, White Elephant (2021). Aluminum, polystyrene, porcelain, underglaze, synthetic hair, epoxy, textiles, motor, electronics. 244 cm x 152 x 212 cm. Commissioned by Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener + Area (CAFKA). Photo: John Jones 2021.


Shary Boyle works across diverse media, including sculpture, painting, installation and drawing. She is known for her bold, fantastical explorations of the figure. Highly crafted and deeply imaginative, her practice is activated through collaboration and mentorship. Boyle’s work considers the social history of ceramic figurines, animist mythologies and folk art forms to create a symbolic, feminist and politically charged language uniquely her own.

Shary Boyle is exhibited and collected internationally. She has performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, NY (2008), The Hammer Museum, LA (2006) and the Olympia Theatre, Paris (2005), and her work has been included in the National Gallery of Canada’s previous three Canadian Biennales.

Shary Boyle’s public art commission Cracked Wheat was installed August 2018 on the front grounds of the Gardiner Museum in Toronto.

‘White Elephant’ featured at the museum as part of a major solo exhibition opening January 2021.