Celebrated Montreal image-based artist JJ Levine is the toast of the Montreal art world. The nonbinary, transmasculine photographer has exhibited his photographs internationally and his critically-hailed exhibition Queer Photographs—featuring a selection from his major photo projects Queer Portraits, Alone Time and Switch—runs at the McCord Museum until September 18, where admission is free for residents of Quebec on the first Sunday of the month.
Levine loves his hometown: “It’s laid back and unpretentious, and since it historically has had a lower cost of living than other big cities, there’s more time to be creative, so this city has always had very strong cultural communities.”
RECOMMENDED: Best free things to do in Montreal
Time Out Montreal spoke with Levine about his favourite neighbourhood, the city’s diversity and where to find the best roti.
Montreal has so many different neighbourhoods. Which is your favourite?
“I live in Villeray, so that’s an easy one—though I spent many years living in the Village and then Little Italy, and I was certain that each of them was the best at the time. I love Jarry Park and all the tree-lined streets and how intergenerational the neighbourhood is.”
What activity do you love to do in the city?
“I love biking up to the river or down to the canal, and I especially appreciate how all the bike paths make Montreal so easy to navigate without a car. The Botanical Gardens are also high up on my list.”
Where is your go-to watering hole?
“The terrasse at Notre-Dame-Des-Quilles is always fun!”
What’s your favourite local restaurant?
“The longstanding, family-run Le Jardin du Cari in Mile End has the best vegetarian roti.”
If you had to choose one of the city’s best festivals, what would it be?
“I love seeing photography and other image-based visual art, and I found the last MOMENTA Biennale de l'image struck the often difficult balance of curating work that is both conceptually compelling and has a strong social message.”
What museum exhibition are you dying to see?
“I’m so excited about Stanley Février’s exhibit that just opened at the Musée des beaux-arts!”
What’s your favourite art gallery?
“Of course I’m going to say Ellephant, the gallery that represents my work! I always try to catch what’s on at artist-run centres, the McCord Museum, the MAC, the Musée des beaux-arts and Fondation PHI.”
What has your Queer experience been like in Montreal?
“This is one of the few cities I’ve been in which I’ve almost never feared for my safety holding hands with or kissing a partner in public, or walking down the street as a visibly Queer person. I think being white and read as male holds privileges that many queer people don’t have access to, so my experience is unfortunately not that of every 2SLGBTQQIA+ person in Montreal.”
What are your thoughts on the city's diversity?
“I think it’s enriching for everyone here to live in a city where several languages are spoken by the majority of its inhabitants and where there is so much leadership and activism coming out of BIPOC communities. The Legault government’s systematic effort to make this province more homogenous is truly shameful, since its diversity is what makes it feel like home for so many of us.”
RECOMMENDED: Best gay bars and LGBTQ+ clubs in Montreal