Peace Taxi was an art project that presented site-specific artworks inside and around Toronto taxis for the month of August 2003 while incubating cross-cultural conversations about race, public space and labour in the aftermath of the attacks on 11 September 2001. This collection highlights those artistic interventions while offering resources for those interested in studying more about the history of taxi work in Toronto and artistic responses to 9/11 more broadly.
Predominantly coming from racialized immigrant communities, taxi drivers held a precarious status in North America after the aftermath of the attacks on September 11. Regardless of professional training and due to systemic barriers, taxi driving is one of the more accessible forms of available employment for new immigrants. Unfortunately as front-line workers, taxi drivers have been particularly vulnerable to racist attacks and hate crimes due to increased tensions following 9/11. In order to protect themselves, many taxi drivers who were racially encoded as “Muslim” in North America opted to showcase their patriotism. In New York City, taxi drivers displayed the US flags in their cabs as a specific declaration of allegiance to the “right side” in the battle against terrorism. Some Sikh taxi drivers even added mini-flags to their turbans for extra symbolic protection.
Peace Taxi aims to bring attention to the situation of these “front-line” workers. The participating artists were: Judy Cheung (Toronto), Shilpa Gupta (Mumbai, India), Hawra Harianawala (Toronto), Joanne Hui &Jan Schotte (Montreal), Anita James (Toronto), Rachel Kalpana James (Toronto), Arshad Khan (Toronto), Nas Khan (Toronto), Jennifer Matotek (Toronto), Riaz Mehmood (Toronto), Amin Rehman (Toronto), MSC Satya Sai (Noida, India), SPURSE (Austin, Texas), Darshana Vora (London, UK), Rashmi Varma (Toronto) and collaborative artists: Alia Toor(New York), Nitin Mukul (New York), & Farjad Nabi (Lahore, Pakistan).Download the Exhibition Catalogue for Peace Taxi
The artworks were not limited to any specific medium. The works include symbolic objects hung from the rearview mirror, audio pieces played in the interior of the taxi, take-away postcards and change purses, questionnaires and interviews, installations that transform the interiors of the taxis, a variety of bookworks, text and image interventions and more. The site-specific continue to stimulate considerations and conversations about the everyday experiences of taxi drivers working in the post-9/11 era within the shared private/public realm of the taxi cab. At the same time, Peace Taxi hopes to demonstrate the power of art as social activism, engaging artists and cross-cultural communities in innovative art process and practice.
During the month of August in 2003, Toronto residents had the opportunity to Hail a Peace Taxi! During that month, the yellow Peace Taxi logo was plastered around the city and on the designated “Peace Taxis.” All you had to do was call 416-745-5100 for your cab ride and ask for a “Peace Taxi.” The project was collaboratively conceived by Rashmi Varma with Rachel Kalpana James and curated by Cyrus Irani. SAVAC’s programming committee – including Cyrus Irani, Rachel Kalpana James, Riaz Mehmood, Amin Rehman, and Rashmi Varma – collectively invited various artists to join them in creating the thought-provoking, site-specific artwork that is featured in Peace Taxi.
SAVAC is happy to present Peace Taxi as a digital collection. We encourage you to learn more about each of the art projects by navigating through the menu bar on the right hand side. We highly recommend watching the fantastic short documentary that Riaz Mehmood prepared for the exhibition which is now available on Vimeo. The history of taxi cabs in Toronto is immersed in a complex world of race, migration and labour and we are happy that SAVAC has been able to shed some light on one part of that history.
SAVAC is grateful for the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Arts Council, our membership and Shelly Jyoti (Art Friend – contribution over $100) and Best Bargains (Art Patron – contributions over $500). And of course, a special thanks to Toronto Taxi (now Beck Taxi) for participating in this project.
Peace Taxi Documentary
Peace Taxi: A Documentary explores the final artworks presented as a part of SAVAC’s Peace Taxi project and their impact through personal interviews with the taxi drivers, who are predominantly from South Asian and other immigrant communities.
The artworks in the taxis became a starting point for a dialogue on the taxi drivers’ experience of racism and hate crimes. Anti-hate crime activist Soni Dasmohapatra from CASSA (Council of Agencies Serving South Asians) comments on strategies and insights drivers and the public can take to recognize and report on such crimes. Peace Taxi reveals how a simple cab ride can be rife with danger. Please contact SAVAC if you are interested in screening the film; it is publicly available through Vimeo.
The documentary was screened at The Regent Park Film Festival (2004), The Royal Ontario Museum (2004) and as a part of Artsweek (2004) at 401 Richmond.
Peace Taxi was conceived by Rashmi Varma with Rachel Kalpana James
Curator: Cyrus Irani
Participating Artists: Judy Cheung, Hawra Harianawala, Anita James, Rachel Kalpana James, Jennifer Matotek, Riaz Mehmood, Amin Rehman, Rashmi Varma, Darshana Vora, Joanne Hui & Jan Schotte, Shilpa Gupta, MSC Satya Sai, Nitin Mukul & Alia Toor & Farjad Nabi, SPURSE
Video Director: Riaz Mehmood
Technical Director: Taha Yasin
A bottle of red liquid sits in a pouch attached to the back of the taxi driver’s seat. The bottle has a label and beside it are many labels for passengers to take away.
The label reads: BLAME
BLAMING YOU MAKES ME FEEL SO GOOD
SO I BLAME YOU FOR WHAT
YOU CANNOT CONTROL
I WANT TO BLAME YOU
IT MAKES ME FEEL SO GOOD
Contents: Simulated blood
To Use: Squeeze small quantity on dry surface. Neatly separate into four equal sections (can be unequal too). Tell sections apart according to race and religion.Download the Project Proposal Download the BLAME Sticker
Shilpa Gupta lives and works in Mumbai where she has shown at Gallery Chemould, Lakeeren, NGMA and at Saakshi Gallery. She has also shown at the Tate Modern (London), Gallery 4A and Artspace (Sydney), IMA (Brisbane), Talwar Gallery (New York), MAAP (Beijing), Upstream (Hoorn and Amsterdam), Moving Image Centre (Auckland), La Salle Gallery (Singapore), Manchester City Gallery and with Experimenta (Melbourne), Savac and Mercer Union (Toronto) and New Territories (Glasgow). Blame exists also as an interactive project on local trains in Mumbai, India.
A painting of the sky with cumulonimbus clouds carpets the ceiling of the taxi. The interplay between physical and mental space is a recurring theme in Hawra’s work. Accordingly, the ceiling mural deals with the idea of boundless space within the closed space of the taxi. Also, it gives the passenger a reason to look up! Attached to the exterior of the taxi are mudguards with text, chosen by the taxi driver to express his relationship with his vehicle. This is one of Hawra Harianawala’s first works after moving to Toronto upon completing her Bachelors of Fine Art from the National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan.
Hawra Harianawala is a Peshawar native, trained at National College of Arts, Lahore as a visual artist. She started her career in Toronto as an active member of the South Asian Visual Art Collective (SAVAC) and participated in various group and solo shows, including one at the Roy Thompson Hall. She worked in Karachi as a curator and art journalist: Her art reviews have been published in several magazines such as Newsline, Nukta and OUP Pakistan. She now lives in Houston Texas and runs her visual arts practice called Studio H.
Joanna Hui and Jan Schotte
The sharing of food is promoted as a powerful means of breaking down cultural barriers in this bookwork titled “Recipeace”. The project invites passengers to take a recipe to prepare for their family and friends in exchange for a tracing of their hand on the page from which the recipe was taken. Over the course of the month the book will be transformed from a book of recipes into a series of drawings recording public participation.Download the Project Proposal
Joanne Hui is an artist living and working in Montreal. Jan Schotte also lives and works in Montreal.
“…and thus began a thousand and one nights of Baghdad!” is an exploration of the politics of survival in our post-modern post-9/11 neo-orientalist culture. Postcards and dashboard ornaments reference the story popularized in 19th century England as “The Arabian Nights”, as well as the famous children’s book illustrations of pre-Raphaelite, Walter Crane. Shahrazad is caught in the act of telling stories to the King, her new husband, a trick to save her life, and the lives of her sister, her father, the young women of her city, and their families. Like many people with whom we casually relate in our daily lives, or through the media, she bargains for survival with the skills or tools she has at hand, however unlikely and above suspicion, consumed by an audience that can appreciate struggle as play. The Orient rebounds? Play it!Download the Postcard
Anita James is an emerging visual artist and law student. She works in a variety of media, with a special focus on drawing.
Rachel Kalpana James
On the rear window of the taxi, the text “The Home and the World” and can be read as a slogan, advertising the services of the taxi: to transport you “home” or to the destination of your choice as implied by the word “world”. At night, exterior street lighting at different points throughout the taxi ride casts a shadow such that “home” gets cast on the back of the driver’s seat and “world” gets cast on the back of the passenger’s seat. The seemingly magical placement of these word-shadows may provoke ideas and associations for the passenger on the nature of the shared private/public space of the taxi. The text is also the title of a novel by Rabindranath Tagore which explores the inherent conflicts between the home and the world in pre-partition India.
Rachel Kalpana James is the Director of SAVAC and a visual artist. She has exhibited in Toronto and internationally. New work will be exhibited at Gallery 44, Toronto, Croweaters Gallery, Lahore, Pakistan and on CBC Radio.
Imagine blue, cloud-dappled skies, greener-than-green fresh cut grass, acres of white picket fencing, and red, happy, little flowers. This artist visualizes this cultural cliché of the “North American Dream” within the unique, three-dimensional confines of a taxicab.Download the Project Proposal
Jennifer Matotek is a multidisciplinary artist based in Oakville, Ontario, whose videos, sculptures, performances, drawings and digital images have been shown in eight group exhibitions since her graduation from the University of Toronto and Sheridan College’s Art & Art History programme in 2001.
The exchange between a passenger and the driver in a taxi may simply be the conveyance of the address of the destination. I want to move a step further in this relationship to connect passengers to the interior life of the driver through his wishes and dreams. I use manipulated digital photographs to express those elements of identity that exist beyond the information found on the taxi driver’s id card.Download the Project Proposal
Riaz Mehmood is a an emerging visual artist. He is studying integrated media at6 the Ontario College of Art and Design. He loves Muskoka and dogs are not his best friends.
“Divided Home” is a memory piece of an immigrant in which he has linked historical and recent events. The text-image is based on an ongoing series of Amin’s media influenced images which comment on the impact of political language on our daily lives and how it becomes part of daily culture. Amin’s early work showed an interest in Islamic and western calligraphy. His present body of work explores the possibility of text-as-image in social, political and personal situations.
Amin Rehman is a painter whose work explores politicized cultural interactions, communal narratives, linguistic forces and globalization. Amin’s art practice comprises works on paper, canvas, and board, as well as wall-hung installations.
MSC Satya Sai
For luck, we perform a number of rituals. We may make a wish, write this wish on a small paper or leaf, put it in a container and seal it, string it round our arm, hang it from our necks, tie it to the door of our home, or suspend it in the vehicle we drive. “You and Me Ritual Wind-Bells” hangs from the rearview mirror of the taxi. It is made of haldi (tumeric) and taveej (copper), auspicious elements common in Hindu rituals. Tiny copper cases with “you and me” etched on the outside contain little paper wishes that say “for peace” in the hope that the wish comes true.
MSC Satya Sai has a BFA in Painting and a MFA in Painting from Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, 2002. He has since participated in various exhibitions in India and abroad like, “Galerie Muller & Plate”, Munchen, Germany, 2003, Lionel Wendt Gallery, Alliance Francaise de Kandy, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 2002, Visual Art Gallery (IHC), Delhi, India, 2002, Bose Pacia Modern, New York, America, 2001. His work is in private collections in India and abroad. He lives and works in Delhi.
Culture cannot be invented. Thus SPURSE offers an invitation for cultural invention and experimentation. Within the taxi a compilation of audio recordings of speculations and inventions of cultures previously unknown are played over speakers. These have been produced by the prompting of simple questions regarding the nature of cultural artifice, so that participants invent and describe emergent cultures. This project brings diverse international peoples together to participate in collective imaginings about the possibility of culture – passengers are immersed in the midst of these speculations and are invited to participate. Questionnaires are available to taxi passengers and their participation will become part of future dialogues and projects.Download the Pamphlet
SPURSE is an international art/architecture collective with no fixed content or members. Further information can be found at spurse.org.
The need for change is an ongoing constant. Whether it is social, political or economic, “change please” creates a powerful message with the use of a simple word: change. Using text and fashion, “change please” plays on several meanings: change as transformation, change as monetary value and a change purse as an object. Passengers are asked to take vintage purses that are printed with text such as change please, change purse_u_change etc. The text “change please” will also appear on the taxi’s exterior. rashmi varma is a multidisciplinary designer on a continuous_non-linear journey to find multiple intersection points of art and design, thereby creating a hybrid culture of her own.
Rashmi Varma is a multidisciplinary designer and artist, who divides her time between Toronto and New Delhi. She produces her own clothing label ‘rashmi varma’, while exploring the dualities of fashion as both wearable object and art.
Darshana Vora’s work addresses the dynamics of site and space in relation to physical and emotional states of self. Working across a range of media, her objects and installations create situations that engage one in a playful but contemplative way. A moving LED is installed on the dashboard of the taxi. Words unfold in time – HELL…LOST… RAN…ANGER, finally recognizable as ‘HELLO STRANGER’ – a phrase one uses as an ice-breaker to re-establish a friendship. The intervention hopes to introduce an element of trust between the taxi driver and the passenger that is necessary when using a shared space.Download the Project Proposal
Darshana Vora studied at Sir JJ College of Architecture, Mumbai and the University of Hertfordshire, UK. She has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in India, Australia, UK, Germany and Holland. (Technical assistance by Rohan Sheth)
Nitin Mukul, Farjad Nabi & Alia Toor
Playing within the taxi is a ‘remix’ of audio culled from video recordings of street scenes around the subcontinent including massive crowds of cricket fans from the 2003 World Cup cricket match of Pakistan vs. India , electronic beats and live instrumentation by Nitin Mukul. On the rear passenger windows are transparent images from these city’s streets as seen from the perspective of the taxi passenger. A transparent composite map of the cities also placed within the cab, blurring their distinctions by overlapping them into one. The audio and visual elements work in tandem to transform the environment within the taxi, creating parallels with the experience of traveling in a taxi-like vehicle from Lahore, Delhi or New York, juxtaposed with the live sound and images of the actual locality of Toronto. There is a tension of public/private, local/remote space with the moving background. The private space (inside the taxi) is filtered to the public and the public space (outside the taxi) is screened through these images. Layers of experience and memory may be evoked in the process.
Nitin Mukul (New York) currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. He has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from theUniversity of Massachusetts at Amherst (1992) and also studied at the Amsterdam Hogescool voor de Kunsten, Netherlands (1991). He was the Creative and Administrative Manager of the IndoCenter of Art & Culture, New York.
Farjad Nabi (Lahore) started out as a photographer and journalist freelancing with various publications in Pakistan. Soon his interest in filmmaking took over. He is the director of the experimental documentary “Nusrat has Left the Building but When ?”. the film “No One Believes the Professor”. Both films received wide recognition winning awards at the Film South Asia festival in Kathmandu and at home in the Karafilm Festival. Apart from filmmaking, Farjad Nabi also delves into sound recordings at matteela (www.matteela.com).
Alia Toor (New York) currently resides in New York, where she recently graduated from Teacher’s College, Columbia University in Communication and Education. Her interest is in the relationship between technology and art. As an educator, she has taught in Toronto and Pakistan. Her previous work explored issues of Islam, sexuality and femininity. Alia is a member of a New York art collective drinkink and her website can be viewed at drinkink.org
Here you are read about the artistic interventions of other artists who were included in Peace Taxi. For small images of their projects, please consult the exhibition catalogue. Unfortunately, we do not have any more substantial documentation of their artistic contribution to Peace Taxi in our collection. If you are interested in learning more about their work, please visit their personal websites or contact our Communications Coordinator Sophie Sabet at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will find a way to get you in touch with the artist.
Images taken from a taxi or images with taxis as subjects are displayed in tiny boxes which adhere to the ceiling, the door or above the back window of the taxi. The boxes have lights which flash sequentially as if the viewer is watching exterior scenery flash by. Juxtaposed with the flashing boxes is a rearview mirror, in which the viewers can see themselves. This artwork is an experiential and existential project that challenges the viewers’ perceptions — simultaneously reviewing the self and others.
Judy Cheung is a Toronto-based media artist and photographer. Her work has been shown nationally and abroad. Her upcoming solo exhibition “Plastic Moment” at Latitude 53, Edmonton, features installations and videos, which address issues of globalization and consumption through the collection of airline products and hotel toiletries.
Reviews and Additional Resources
We are thankful to everyone who participate in the Peace Taxi project and all the reporters who helped us to amplify the stories of taxi cab drivers in Toronto.National Post – Saturday, August 9, 2003 Falva Online – July 30, 2004 The Art News Magazine of India – Vol. VIII, Issue IV Mix Magazine – Summer 2003 The Globe and Mail – Saturday, August 9, 2003
The history of taxi cabs in Toronto is complex and embedded in fascinating histories of race, migration and labour exploitation. Below are some additional resources to help you learn more about that history.
Sharma, Sarah. “Taxi cab publics and the production of brown space after 9/11.” Cultural Studies 24.2 (2010): 183-199.
Mirpuri, Sheena, et al. “Discrimination and health among taxi drivers in New York and Toronto.” Journal of community health 43.4 (2018): 667-672.
Donovan Vincent, “Ex-slaves ran city’s first taxi,” Toronto Star, 10 February 2007
Josuha Errett, “From Thornton Blackburn to Uber: a brief and varied history of Toronto taxis,” CBC News, 09 April 2016