When Will Munro — the Toronto-based artist who helped redefine what “queer” meant in the city — passed away in late May from brain cancer you couldn’t turn anywhere without seeing a tribute to him. Munro, perhaps best known as the founder of the monthly dance night Vazaleen, was an integral and at times founding presence in many scenes in his city: queer culture, DJ nights, public space movements and artistic expression were all a part of what he contributed to and represented. He helped upstart Canadian acts such as the Hidden Cameras and Peaches through his monthly dance nights at the El Mocambo and Lee’s Palace and more recently he became the owner of The Beaver, a hotspot for dancing, drinking and uniquely themed evenings.
“I sorta feel like there’s no reason for segregation in our community,” said Munro, referring to the gay community in Toronto in the documentary Will Munro’s Dirty Load. “If queer culture is to grow it has to be part of the outside world and the rest of the world, so take it out of that fucking box, you know. I hope that people take some comfort in finding that there are other people out there, that there are a lot of freak flags flying in Toronto and the freakier it is the more interesting it gets.” He wanted people to see, through his art and his DJ nights and just by opening their eyes to what’s going on around them, that not all culture is mainstream and there’s a lot of good culture happening in the underground.
Comedy, freedom and invention seemed prevalent in Munro’s work. Wrote RM Vaughan of one of Munro’s pieces earlier in the decade: “One of my favourite photographs is a Will Munro Polaroid that features a lovely, monster-wigged lady (me) being molested by a daddy bear dressed only in a pair of tight, Harley-Davidson gotchies. My smile is Giaconda-like, dreamy. And the bear looks very happy to be wearing a work of art.”
Amidst his art was the underwear he made. Back in 2002, he topped NOW Magazine’s list of “Top 10 Art Shows.” At the time NOW commented: “This show–blending wonderfully tacky fashion, innovative sculpture, bright design and some seriously unserious men’s underoos with the instant gratification of Polaroid photography and cash-and-carry shopping–solidified Munro’s place in the art world.” Looking around the city of Toronto his absence is keenly felt.