Car subcultures: dekotora, lowriders, and 'spinning'

Produced as part of Cars: Accelerating the Modern World

Ran from 23 November 2019 to 19 April 2020

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Around the world, communities have used cars in different and creative ways to express their own individual and group identities. Throughout the run of our exhibition, Cars: Accelerating the Modern World, we will be publishing three short films that explore the richness that can be found in car subcultures today: eye-popping dekotora trucks in Japan, low-rider conventions in America, and 'spinning' in South Africa.

Car subcultures: Tomas Flores, low-riding, California, USA

Lowriders emerged among Latino communities in LA in the 1950s and ’60s. Their customised paint jobs, adapted hydraulics, and low, sleek bodies were designed to impress and grab attention as they cruised neighbourhood streets.

Tomas Flores is a member of the Imperials, one of the biggest lowrider car clubs in the world. For the past several years, he has been meticulously modifying a Chevrolet Impala, nicknamed ‘Tipsy/Guardian Angel’, which is dedicated to the memory of all the Imperial members who have passed away, epitomising the creativity and collaborative spirit of the lowrider community.

Stacey-lee May, 'Spinning', Johannesburg, South Africa

'Spinning' involves performing dangerous stunts, whilst a car – ideally a BMW 325i – is spun around in circles at high speed. The drivers lock the car into a spin and then, in clouds of smoke and squealing tyres, climbs out of the car or even hangs backwards out of the window with their head almost brushing the ground.

Spinning has its roots in the early 1980s in Soweto, Johannesburg, where gangsters and criminals would steal cars to spin at the funerals of dead friends. It is now the fastest growing motor sport in South Africa with a new generation pushing to make it mainstream.

Stacey-lee May, AKA 'Queen of Smoke', is a 23-year-old law student and one of South Africa's top female motorsport sensations. Her introduction to spinning came from being bullied in High School, and at the age of 16, her father decided to teach her how to spin in order to boost her confidence.

"I just want to show the youth of the world that you don’t have to be stuck in a box…you can do anything you heart tells you to do".

Stacey-lee May

Junichi Tajima, Dekotora (decorated trucks), Saitama, Japan

Dekotora means 'decorated truck' in Japan. Inspired by the 1975 Japanese TV series, Torakku Yarō (Truck Guys), which featured a trucker who drove his garishly decorated truck all over Japan, dekotora drivers spend huge sums of money customising their ride with extravagant hand-painted murals, neon and ultraviolet lights, and sparkling chrome fixtures.

"On the truck you drive long distances and go to so many places, so it's almost a natural instinct to try and make your mark, to show the world you exist and what you are like. You know, to be a little bit flashy and exaggerate your personality".

Junichi Tajima, president of Utamarokai, the largest and oldest dekotora association in Japan

In this film Junichi Tajima takes us on a journey, revealing the origins of dekotora and how their charity work has helped to dispel their traditional bad-boy reputation.

American Low-rider film coming soon