MURAL Festival became an “Estival” during COVID-19

Even in the midst of a pandemic, art prevails

Montreal’s MURAL Festival was founded in 2012, beginning as “a love letter from Montreal to the world” with a goal to democratize street art. It is known for its celebration of the arts, with renowned artists from all around the world contributing and showcasing their live art, music, and exhibitions.

“We are the meeting place of creative minds and we represent the festive and innovating soul of a booming artistic scene,” its website states.

Whether you’re a tourist or a Montreal native, this annual 11-day event is an excellent way for people to discover great art and artists. During a normal summer, these festivities would consist of huge crowds attending music shows, talks, performance art and more. However, this isn’t a normal summer, and the MURAL Festival adapted accordingly.

Although the usual festival was cancelled, the Estival, derived from the French word for summertime, was created in its place. The MURAL Festival believed that even with this past summer’s conditions, it was important that people still had the freedom to express themselves and for others to take time to relax and appreciate the art. Only this time, safe distances were mandatory.

So, instead of an 11-day festival, the Estival would take place during the three months of summer, without gatherings of any kind. There would still be physical street work going on, but many of the music performances and conferences were streamed online so that citizens could watch their shows safely. Guided tours of the artworks were available as well.

Towards the end of August, I picked up my camera and explored the streets of downtown Montreal in search of large, beautiful murals. As a Video Editor for The Concordian, I decided to check out murals from MURAL Festivals of years’ past to make a video, but I also went to satisfy my own curiosity. I started on St-Laurent Boulevard .

Most of the art I encountered was in great shape; they were huge, bright, and beautiful. Some artworks, like Daniel Joseph Bombardier’s Denial, just off of Prince Arthur Street, had powerful messages embedded in them. Other artworks, likely because of their age, were damaged or covered up with graffiti in some way. Zilon, which was named after the artist, created in 2014 and located at the corner of St-Dominique Street and Marie-Anne Street, was covered in white and black spray paint, leaving only small parts of the image visible.

One thing I realized while documenting all of these pieces of art was the importance of street art. The MURAL Festival itself is a celebration of art in all its forms, but the murals that remained served as a subtle reminder to appreciate the art that we’re surrounded by. Street art is a way for people to enjoy cities and neighbourhoods, whether foreign or local to them, and, especially now, admire artwork safely outside.

Murals fill city streets with colour and life, and as someone who hasn’t lived in Montreal for long, murals help me see the beauty in the ordinary; a normal walk to work can turn into a walk through culture and art. Even amid a pandemic, the MURAL Festival was able to maintain its yearly tradition and add more art to the city. So, even though the Estival is over, and past Festivals are long gone, their stamps on the city remain, and it makes the world a slightly brighter place.


Photos by Christine Beaudoin


What Montreal can learn from art and architecture abroad

Reflecting on the place urban spaces hold within a community

I did not expect art to be the main takeaway from my trip to Singapore and Malaysia this reading week. It’s not that I thought that I wouldn’t see any art, but rather I didn’t think it would be much different from the art in Montreal. I was wrong.

Upon meeting me at Changi airport after my 23-hour flight, my friend immediately dragged me, luggage in tow, to Singapore’s Chinatown for lunch. We exited the metro and a couple of minutes into our walk, stumbled upon Mid-Autumn Festival by Yip Yew Chong. Composed of vibrant reds, oranges and blues, the mural depicts a family feasting on fruits and cakes as lanterns shine above them and children play in the near distance. I was so mesmerized by the colours and overall narrative that I made sure to return after we had eaten, just to be sure I had taken it all in.

In Singapore’s Little India, Cattleland 2 by Eunice Lim comes to life via augmented reality. By scanning a nearby QR code on their phone, the viewer is invited to watch as the cattle roam through the colourful streets of Buffalo Rd. In an interview with SG Magazine, Lim explained that she had spoken to former residents who “gave her their anecdotes of seeing the old street filled with buffaloes running around.”

Glancing up at the commercial buildings and observing the whole of the city, I began to notice the presence of greenery within the architecture and urban spaces. Rooftop terraces are not uncommon throughout Singapore. In fact, the addition of green spaces is part of the country’s goal to become the world’s “greenest city.”

At Gardens by the Bay, infrastructure is purposely built in an effort to increase energy efficiency and visitors are invited to enjoy public art and sculpture all while being outdoors. At night, people can view a temporary installation titled #futuretogether by teamLab collective. Composed of floating egg-shaped lights, viewers’ interaction with the ovoids alter the speed at which they change colours, ultimately, illuminating the bay in bright purple, turquoise, yellow and red.

Along the Melaka River in Malaysia, houses and boutiques are entirely covered in urban art. Each mural pays homage to a different cultural group and their respective histories in Malaysia. The works are unattributed, however, clearly intentional and not to be mistaken for vandalism. As with much of the street art in the rest of Melaka City, a large Chinese influence is present; a cartoon depiction of a guardian lion painted in red hues makes up most of the mural on one residential building. Nearby, murals portray scenes of people dancing in traditional dress.

Reflecting on the art further into my trip, I realized I was not so much enthralled by the artworks themselves, but rather what they represented. It is no secret that Montreal’s street art is not exactly representative of the city’s complex history. To see Singapore, a country with a complicated history and political system, and Malaysia, a developing country, make the effort to get the population to engage within these urban spaces was eye-opening, to say the least.

Montreal’s year-round climate is not quite like the 37 ºC that I basked in for the last two weeks of February. It is understandable that outdoor garden sculptures are not the most feasible public attraction in a city where sub-zero weather lasts for over half of the year. Accurate representation of Montreal’s history, Indigenous population and minority groups, however, definitely does not require an ideal temperature. Montreal, you have some work to do.



Photos by Lorenza Mezzapelle


Indigenous representation through street art

Reflecting on the place of visual art in the Montreal streetscape

Wherever you go on the island of Tiohtià:ke (Montreal), you will find street art. Regardless of the borough or neighbourhood, you are bound to stumble upon a sculptural installation, mural or the good ol’ reliable mosaics and vitrines in various metro stations. It’s what gives the city its charm and personality.

Other than during the annual MURAL festival, I rarely think about the street art that I see nearly every day. However, upon a recent weekend trip to Tkaronto (Toronto) I began to think about street art a lot more, primarily due to the fact that I did not really see any.

I’ve been told by many friends, and via a thorough Google search, that Toronto has plenty of wonderful street art. And yet, during my three-day venture through numerous districts and boroughs of Toronto, I did not come across a single one. Except, that is, for the renowned 3D TORONTO sign, situated in Nathan Phillips Square.

In 2018, the sign, which is very popular among tourists, was modified to include the Medicine Wheel, an Indigenous symbol that represents various spiritual concepts, including health. The last time I had seen the installation, I was quite young and I did not think much of it, as it was just a large illuminated “Toronto.” This time, I began to reflect on the place of the installation in the city, the inclusion of the Medicine Wheel, and Indigenous representation in the Montreal streetscape.

Other than the Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women mural, by artists Fanny Aisha, Guko and Monk-e, commissioned by Missing Justice, a solidarity collective working to eliminate violence and discrimination against Indigenous women in Quebec, I have yet to come across street art by Indigenous artists or for Indigenous people. However, there are plenty… just not in areas frequented by most.

So, what does this mean about representation in Montreal? Two large murals of Leonard Cohen are placed at two of the busiest intersections in the city, but Indigenous art work, like Skawennati’s The Celestial Tree, is situated on Pine Ave. and McTavish St., an intersection less frequented.

Shanna Strauss’ 2017 work, Ellen Gabriel & Mary Two Axe Earley, Tiohtià:ke unceded Haudenosaunee territory, pays homage to Mohawk activists Ellen Gabriel and Mary Two Axe Earley. Situated on St-Antoine St. West, in Saint-Henri, the mural features a portrait of the women and was created in solidarity with Indigenous women from Tiohtià:ke, in an effort to resist colonial violence and fight for the recognition of Indigenous rights.

Towards the downtown core of Montreal, at the intersection of Atwater Ave. and Lincoln Ave., one can find Meky Ottawa’s 2018 mural, Hommage à Alanis Obomsawin. As the name states. the work is an homage to Alanis Obomsawin, an activist committed to the defense of First Nations and the rights of Indigenous children. The mural consists of a portrait of Obomsawin, and numerous children holding hands.

Ottawa, an Atikamekw artist, collaborated with MU Montreal, in creating the piece. MU is a project that aims to turn Montreal into an open air museum. Since their conception in 2007, the group has produced over 120 murals.

At the McCord museum, one might stumble upon Inuk artist Jusipi Nalukturuk’s 1936 work, Inukshuk. The sculptural installation, owned by the McCord Museum, is an ode to Indigenous ancestry. The work consists of over 200 stones and was initially assembled in Nunavik.

Even upon further research, I am shocked to discover the plethora of hidden works by Indigenous artists within the Montreal art milieu. Each work offers a piece of history that is not taught in the classrooms and aims to maintain both personal and collective histories that have otherwise been destroyed by colonial violence.

Considering the diversity of artists featured at street art festivals, like MURAL, it is infuriating that Indigenous people are not properly represented on their own lands and in their streets, to say the least. With artists from Colombia, the Netherlands, and settlers being given the opportunity to showcase their works at one of Montreal’s largest art festivals, it certainly raises questions where representation and attribution are concerned.

I am left wondering, does it really count as representation if marginalized artists are offered a place to show their work that is virtually hidden from the majority of the population? It seems to me like yet another inadequate attempt at reconciliation.

Further information about Montreal street art can be found at Art Public Montreal, at, and at MU Montreal at


Graphic by @sundaeghost.


From the big screen to our streets

Montreal honours Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin in new mural

While walking along Lincoln Ave., one will notice a recent addition to the street’s regular brick exteriors. Unlike St-Laurent Blvd. and the Plateau, street art rarely graces this avenue.

However, on Nov. 4, award-winning filmmaker and artist Meky Ottawa began painting over a brick wall on the corner of Lincoln and Atwater Avenues as a way to pay homage to Indigenous icon Alanis Obomsawin. In collaboration with MU MTL and inaugurated by the Conseil des arts de Montréal, the mural is a touching gesture to the Abenaki artist and esteemed documentary filmmaker.

Ottawa is a Manawan native, from the Atikamekw community and has been making films from the early age of 13. Now in her mid-twenties, Ottawa has recently participated in an installation with two other Indigenous artists at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

MU MTL aims to rejuvenate Montreal neighbourhoods using art, transforming the city into an open air “MUseum.”
Co-founders Elizabeth-Ann Doyle and Emmanuelle Hébert came together to showcase urban art’s ability to transform, or ‘ripen’ a city’s artistic culture.

The new mural on Lincoln depicts Obomsawin in a red dress, sporting her hair in braids and holding a traditional Abenaki drum. According to Abenaki legend, the spirit of the drum is the heartbeat of Mother Earth, inducing harmony by accompanying the voices of the people.

Obomsawin’s portrait is framed against a beautiful teal background. Olive branches float above her head, and forming a halo.

Although Obomsawin’s figure is the focal point of the piece, it is the children below her that catch the viewer’s eye. Holding hands in single file, they are inside what seem to be musical soundwaves. It is as if Obomsawin’s drumming is dictating the children’s direction, seemingly guiding them forward.

Obomsawin is a renowned singer, writer and storyteller, performing for humanitarian causes in Canada, the United States and Europe. She has greatly impacted Indigenous communities by spending almost 40 years directing documentaries at the National Film Board (NFB) with strong social content. The icon has worked on over 30 films documenting the discrimination and injustice her people face in Canada.

The 1977 film, Mother of Many Children, examines the central role of women in Indigenous cultures and was screened during POP Montreal this past September. The film is available online via the NFB database. Kanesatake: 270 years of resistance (1993) examines the land dispute between the Mohawk people of Kanesatake and the municipality of Oka, known as the Oka Crisis. The film is still used as an educational tool in many of Concordia’s classrooms.

According to the NFB, Obomsawin’s main concern is education, “because that’s where you develop yourself, where you learn to hate, or to love.”


Breaking down walls and heightening accessibility

Redefining Montreal’s urban landscape in Surfaces

Montreal is alive with street art, from huge murals and intricate details, to vibrant colours and distinct graffiti. In artworks across the city, there is a re-understanding of the landscape and surrounding environment. Traditional ways of viewing and accessing art are challenged.

Surfaces, on display from Aug. 23 to Oct. 28 at the Promenade des Artistes in Quartier des Spectacles, is a multidisciplinary urban exhibition showcasing works

from some of Montreal’s most successful street artists. Displaying 14 works by 16 artists and collectives—including Miss Me, Omen, Zek One and Shalak Attack—the exhibition features distinctive and varied works.

The exhibition’s pieces are primarily displayed on large, individual panels, paired with signs that provide information about the respective artists and their practices. Two sculptural works are also displayed; one made of individually detailed concrete cubes and the other is a car, decorated with writing. There is diversity and variety in the distinct style of each artist, which showcases the versatility of the street art format and provides something for every viewer.

Miss Me, a prominent figure in Montreal’s urban art scene, is known for her explicitly political and feminist art. At Surfaces, the artist’s panel consists of five mostly nude female figures, all with their faces covered by a ski mask with cartoon-style mouse ears. The bodies are adorned with drawings and statements, including “IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU” and “Stop blaming women for the misbehaviours of men.”

Cedar Eve is an Anishinaabe artist and a Concordia fine arts alumna, having graduated in 2012. Her piece in Surfaces depicts brightly coloured, surrealist figures in spaces of transformation and metamorphosis. The work is connected to her First Nations identity and is inspired by stories shared with her as a child.

In the case of both these artists, the political and the personal are explored and shared through their work. Taking up space in a city and displaying these powerful messages is also arguably a political move.

Accessibility is a regularly discussed and dissected issue within the art world. Who can access art? How does privilege and class influence accessibility? Institutions, such as art galleries and museums, often appear as exclusive spaces for select communities, and are not always physically accessible for all. Further boundaries can be found in the realms of academia. Art is often not accessible in this way either, as many viewers often feel discouraged by the potential condescension within the artistic community.

Street art explores and challenges these questions and the normative institutions of viewing art. Painting on structures and areas within the city also fights the concept of ownership and select viewing, heightening accessibility for all. This aspect was clearly considered by the curators of Surfaces, who aptly display the 16 works in a public, outdoor space rather than inside a gallery.

Surfaces will be on display at the Promenade des Artistes in the Quartier des Spectacles until Oct. 28. The exhibition is outdoors and open to the public.


Urban artists meet to connect and create

A street art exhibition that brought together Montreal and New York City artists will be on display for an extra month to allow more urban art lovers to admire the collection of works. Hosted by Station 16, a local contemporary art gallery, NYC meets MTL Street Art Pop-Up Gallery was intended to run from Sept. 8 until the end of the month. The exhibition will now be open until Oct. 31.

During the opening, over 20 artists were invited to participate in a live painting session. It was the New York artists who created a new mural for the Station 16 print shop. Andrea Cook, the creator of the Pussy Power series, contributed her design of a reimagined Chanel perfume bottle to the artistic process by inscribing the title of her series onto the bottle.

Andrea Cook’s contribution is part of her series of provocative pieces titled Pussy Power. Photos by Anna Larovaia.

The exhibition showcases a refreshing diversity of work and includes creations by Concordia’s own Laurence Vallières, Whatisadam (WIA) and Jason Wasserman. Wasserman, who graduated from Concordia in 2004 with a degree in fine arts, is now working as an independent illustrator. “Station 16 is involved in this big cross-section of different styles, and they chose the artists exposing at their gallery accordingly,” said Wasserman, who is also a partner of the Station 16 print shop.

A recurring theme that is present in the pieces by Montreal artists within the exhibition is Canadian, specifically Montreal, imagery. With Wasserman’s illustrations of both cliché and underground sectors of the city and Whatisadam’s iconic Maple Sizzurp Drum, Montreal is well represented.

“Montreal is such a big part of my identity,” Wasserman said about his source of inspiration. “I have so much attachment to this city so, for me, it’s not only a natural but also an authentic theme.”

Wasserman described ‘street art’ as an umbrella term used to describe a variety of art, including styles such as sculpting, stencil graffiti and murals, all which can be found at the NYC meets MTL Street Art Pop-Up Gallery.

By featuring the work of artists from two separate cities, the exhibition successfully merges inter-city street art communities. “Working with other artists is great for learning but also for networking,” Wasserman said, adding that he now follows some of the New York artists on Instagram. “It’s important for independent contractors to network and help one another.”

This is a lesson Wasserman was taught during his time at Concordia. “I spent a lot of time late at night in Concordia’s art studio. I was in my own bubble. The work I created there was sometimes unsatisfying, and I realized it was because I was self-exploring through work that was meant to be created for others to relate to and gain from,” he said.

The gallery is not only a chance for art enthusiasts to see creations that cross international borders, but according to Wasserman, it is also an opportunity for artists such as himself to share and learn from one another.

NYC meets MTL Street Art Pop-Up Gallery will be on display until Oct. 31 at Station 16 Gallery. The gallery is open Tuesday to Thursday from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. and on Friday until 5 p.m. Private viewings can also be arranged.

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