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Canadian Artist of the Week
LOOK AT THIS: Elija Montgomery’s Friendly, Misunderstood Monster
August 8, 2014
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LOOK AT THIS is a weekly series featuring the work of Canadian artists, designers and creators of all sorts.

Name: Elija Montgomery

Born: Bracebridge, ON, 1986

Lives and works: Toronto

Meet Wat: For the month of August, anyone strolling by Toronto's Xpace gallery will find themselves face-to-face with Wat, a hairy green monster created by artist Elija Montgomery for his thesis project at OCAD University. "Childhood monsters were never scary, really, just misunderstood," Montgomery told "Monsters have always been a way for us to categorize others, and otherness. I wanted to create a creature, something visibly other, and make him very familiar, to highlight our similarities by exposing them as our assumption of difference." In the photo series I AM A MONSTER, Wat faces all sorts of everyday anxieties, from being stared at on the train to not feeling comfortable in his own clothes.

On visible difference: One photo of Wat (the fifth in the gallery above) finds him in front of two doors labelled "Men" and "Women," and bears the caption "I HATE PUBLIC WASHROOMS." Montgomery told that while the series is not specifically about his own identity, "my experiences living as a (visibly) queer/trans person played their part. Being trans can be a tension between being seen and unseen: to be respected and recognized for my gender identity, but not only seen for my transness. And it’s no secret that trans people are still seen as monstrous.... We can all agree that Wat is visibly different, and safely ask questions about his identity and origins. And because he isn’t real, but what he represents is, we can challenge the assumptions and questions we have about him, where they come from, and why they’re important to us, without dehumanizing an individual with such interrogation."

What's next for Wat: Earlier this year, Montgomery did a Calvin & Hobbes-inspired photoshoot with Wat, and this fall, he's hoping to bring him outdoors for photos in public spaces. "As a character, Wat has the freedom to grow and change as necessary, and may yet have life and applications I haven’t discovered."

Other Canadian artists he admires: Montgomery cites Toronto's Joey Comeau as an influence on his work. "He’s a local author/writer/weirdo, whose writing is strange and beautiful, but maybe most importantly: unapologetically honest. His work continues to motivate me to not hold back; the harder things are to say, the more important they usually are. For visual artistry, I am very lucky to know Jessica Bartram, whose illustrations and creations are delightful and lively, and our mutual love for adorable monsters and hybrid creatures is rivalled only by our intense work practices."


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