>>> Art from the activism that shook up 80s Toronto

The Rebel Zone archives recall the movement that transformed Queen West

THE REBEL ZONE – ART & ACTIVISM: IGNITES A CULTURE – TRANSFORMS A CITY at YTB Gallery (563 Dundas East, Suite 201) to March 31.  416-910-5213 See listing. Rating: NNNN

Do you remember the heady Queen West scene in the late seventies and early 80s? That roiling non-stop cauldron of wild warehouse art shows, booze cans, punk rock jams, queer activism, feminist salons, performance art political campaigns and all around do it yourself art activist Bad-Assery? Curator, musician and long-time  activist Lorraine Segato wants you to. 

That’s why she’s assembled thousand of artifacts – from posters, flyers photographs and zines to film and video – documenting a seminal decade in Toronto’s shift from small town, uptights-ville to vibrant and diverse cosmopolitan beacon. 


The late 70s marked a special time when artists and activists took advantage of low down-town rents and derelict spaces to spawn their own creative and political revolution. Fueled almost entirely by flyers, wheat-paste and word of mouth, a whole generation of youth made a mighty noise that occasionally riled the police and almost got them a seat at city hall. 

Segato’s collection reminds us of groups like Chromazone Collective, who rented the derelict Heritage Department store and put on Living Art Shows of furniture, wearable art and decoration that drew in 10,000 visitors from across the city. Conceptual media art pioneers General Ideas staged whimsically subversive beauty pageants, television talk shows, boutiques, installations and a constant stream of flyers, posters, postcards and media. The Hummer Sisters, a feminist art collective, put on a sleek, New Wave-styled, irony-laden campaign for mayor in 1982 that actually garnered them second place in the mayoral race. 


In front of CityTV

There are early artifacts from the Cameron House, the city’s first art bar and indie music hotspot, which encouraged local artists to paint murals and where Herb Tookey printed his own brightly colored currency to foster a small barter economy. 

This was also a heady time for queer activism. The Body Politic, the city’s first queer zine, was raided and shut down by police and, after the infamous bathhouse raids, a collective uproar in the form of a 3,000-person protest in the street served to shift attitudes towards queer publications and bath-houses.  


Segato digs deep into the archives to remind us of the inventive and die -hard do it yourself ingenuity that spawned the Toronto we know today. 

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