During my visit to the University of Toronto, I explored some of the neighbourhoods in the city and even managed to squeeze in a trip to Montreal over the long Victoria day weekend in May. Montreal is the 2nd largest city in Canada and it has a completely different feel to Toronto. For one thing, the official language is French and you can see the European architectural influence in many parts of the city. Toronto is quite straight and square with stereotypical North American style blocks whereas in Montreal the streets are narrower and windier. There were a number of music and dance events going on in Montreal when I visited. The city was bustling! As I walked around Montreal I noticed that the streets were full of stories and messages in the form of graffiti, posters, stickers and song. In this post I’ll be showcasing some of the street art and installations that caught my eye.
I arrived in Montreal late in the evening, dropped my bags in my Airbnb in Plateau-Mont-Royal (the owner had left the door open because they do actually leave their doors open in Canada!) and took a walk around the area.
The first piece of artwork I saw that resonated with me was this mural. I believe that it depicts the young boy who modelled in an advert for the high street chain H & M earlier this year. H & M received backlash from the public as many people described the advert as being racially insensitive. In turn, an array of modified images were uploaded onto social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram – one of the most popular images was of the young boy re-imaged as a king, with a crown on his head. This artwork was a nice introduction to the city, as it suggested that the residents were engaged with current affairs and interested in solidarity between and within communities.
As I turned another corner, I saw this sticker of a woman with the words “art is my healing”, surrounded by thick black graffiti (presumably someone’s name tag). This statement highlights the power of engaging in the arts, and how for many, art can be a form of therapy. Again, I was left feeling like the residents of the city were conscious of, and open to, different perspectives.
I spent the next morning in Mount Royal Park. Mount Royal (French: Mont Royal) is a large volcanic-related hill or small mountain, that sits 233 meters above sea level in the city of Montreal. It was in fact Mount Royal that gave its name to Montreal. The park was filled with friends and families walking and cycling along the paths. On the way up to the top of the mountain I passed a big fallen tree with graffiti on it that said “don’t use straws” on one end and “save the rainforests” on the other. Quite fitting graffiti for a tree trunk!
Once I’d taken in the views and my selfies (of course!), I followed the sound of the drums down the hill to the George-Étienne Cartier Monument. I had embarked on the Tam-Tams. Tam-Tams is the name of a festival that happens in the park every Sunday during the spring and summer months. The centre of attention is the drummers, who play together around the monument. It is a lively gathering of music makers, dancers, vendors and their admiring audiences. Tam-Tams had a really nice community feel.
In the afternoon I made my way to the neighbourhood of Notre Dame du Grace for Porch fest (French: Balconfete). During Porch fest local musicians gather their friends, get out their instruments and perform on their front porches! There is an interactive map online that shows you who’s playing what, where and when; it’s like a self-guided walking tour of neighbourhood, with mini-concerts as your stepping-stones. I heard a mixture of Jazz, Folk, Ska, Reggae, Rock, Fiddle and Blues on porches and patios and even 80s synth wave music blasting from a speaker from a second-floor window.
This is another mural that impressed me because: 1, it’s massive, 2, it’s so detailed and 3, the underlying messages intrigued me. It made me think about how we are surrounded by material possessions from the day we are born up until old age. And that although some toys are bright and beautifully made, our imaginations are often bigger and brighter than the material world. I often question whether our child-like inquisitiveness fades as we get older… and if so, can we re-light it? And what about our possessions – do they help or hinder us? For example, how and when does an object ignite the creativity within us and when is it merely a tool for distraction?
On my last evening in Montreal I met up with a new friend and we made our way to 21 swings[i] – an interactive art installation that was set up in the city during the spring. As the name suggests, 21 swings is a set of 21 swings that invite passers-by to enjoy a collaborative musical experience. The swings are not just normal swings but musical swings that produce musical notes in the sound of either a piano, guitar, harp or vibraphone as you swing back and forth. Swinging to different heights produces different notes, and when multiple people swing, a melody emerges. What’s more, after dark, the swings are illuminated to create a dance of light. The work was created by Daily tous les jours, in collaboration with Luc-Alain Giraldeau from UQAM and Radwan Moumneh, who composed the score.
I had a great time in the city of Montreal – the overall vibe I got from the city was cool, calm and collected. The street art around the city suggests that the residents are aware of what’s going on in world, conscious about the environment and care about the empowerment of members of their communities. I was only in Montreal for a short time but when I returned to Toronto I had a fresh new perspective; I began to pay more attention to the stories on the streets and how the style of street art differed across the city. I do wonder how I will view my ever-changing hometown of London on my return…
All images were taken on my phone in the city of Montreal Canada.
Shazza Ali (2018)