Rez Cars Get High Art Treatment

A few months ago I sat in the office of Naomi Johnson, Artistic Director of the Woodland Cultural Centre, as we attempted to come up with a way to describe a rez car to those unfamiliar with the term, mainly the funder who was sitting in front of us. He starred at us as we fumbled to find an accurate way to describe what a rez car is.

“It’s a junk car that still runs,” Johnson said.

“Like a field car,” I added, my phrasing sounding more like a question than an answer. The funder nodded slowly in seeming understanding.

We were attempting to describe an upcoming exhibition that Naomi was curating titled InterNations/InterSections: a large scale partnership between Fort York, the Woodland Cultural Centre and the Planet IndigenUS festival.

Car 2

Car 1

The concept for the exhibition was to commission four Indigenous artists from across the country to create works based on the concept of transportation and how it relates to Indigenous people and so of course the discussion ended up on rez cars.

Rez cars are a fixture in many Indigenous communities and the term ‘rez car’ doesn’t necessarily mean a car. It can be a truck, a snow mobile, or even a boat. They are iconic; recognizable at a glance. They are full of story.

Artistic director of Planet IndigenUS Janis Monture originally came up with the concept for the InterNations/InterSections exhibition while on a lengthy flight from Toronto to Brisbane. She was discussing with a non-Native co-worker life on the rez.

Monture said, “I spoke to her about how I felt trapped on the rez. Even though we are close to urban centres it is still really remote and how there is a lack of infrastructure in our communities. There is no public transit and cabs aren’t really an option most of the time. To get around we had rez cars. It was our freedom.”

It was out of this conversation that Monture began to put together the concept for the exhibition. She sought out funding sources and submitted the concept for Pan Am/Parapan commissioning fund. The project was successful in gaining sponsorship and with additional support from the Toronto Arts Council the project moved forward. At this point Monture handed off the curation to Johnson at the Woodland Cultural Centre.

Johnson explained, “We decided the best way to approach the project was to commission artists, to let them explore what the rez car means to them and to their communities. Our communities are similar in many ways but also vastly different. I wanted to give the artists the freedom to create from their perspectives.”

Johnson began reaching out to artists and soon had secured Kelly Greene, Kent Monkman, Kevin Lamure, and Douglas Smarch Jr. to take on the project. Each artist worked to create their own interpretation of the rez car which will be unveiled at Fort York in Toronto on July 13th.

The works are currently being installed at Fort York and are already causing a stir. There have been police reports about the suspicious cars under the under the Gardiner Express. I admit I laughed pretty hard when I heard that. I couldn’t help but think to myself typical rez car behavior.

InterNations/InterSections opens this week at Fort York, 250 Fort York Boulevard on July 13th and remain onsite until August 10th. It will then move to the Woodland Cultural Centre. InterNations/InterSections was commissioned by the TORONTO 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games arts and culture festival, PANAMANIA presented by CIBC. Additional funding provided by the Toronto Arts Council.

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